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Smaller package doesn’t mean smaller price

By Staff | Nov 6, 2009

Sometimes I wonder if some companies think they are slipping one past us, so to speak.

Just last week I noticed that the same brand of toilet paper that I’ve been buying for years has made their rolls smaller. As you can imagine, I’m usually too busy to stop and take a close look at the toilet paper roll, but for some reason it struck me the last time I went to replace the empty roll that something was different. The rolls were a good inch narrower.

I think a lot of companies bank on the fact that consumers are too busy to notice that packages and products are shrinking while suspiciously the prices are not. There are all sorts of sneaky things going on right before our eyes just like the shrinking toilet paper roll. Common changes include packaging redesign that holds fewer ounces by way of indented container bottoms, cartons that hold 1/4 less of a quart, and boxes that remain the same size but actually have smaller bags of product inside.

Companies of all kinds are claiming that tough economic times are forcing them to implement creative cost-cutting strategies. But unfortunately, the consumer feels the brunt of it.

I first noticed something was up when I purchased diapers about a year ago and there were six less diapers per package for the same price I had always been paying. I think companies sneak this small change past the consumer hoping they won’t notice.

And most of the time it works. We are so busy and wrapped up in our hectic lifestyles that most people won’t even miss that extra inch of toilet paper or six diapers.

This got me thinking that I should write a letter to these companies just so they know that their shrinking packages aren’t going unnoticed. I’ve never been one to write to a company. I usually just express my disapproval by switching brands. But maybe these companies who have sometimes grown too large to listen to the “little guy” consumer, should hear more from their customers to let them know that they aren’t getting away with cheating us just because they need to cut corners.

This got me thinking about the famous “Letter from a Nut” author Ted L. Nancy. This guy as made a career of writing strange and hilarious letters to hotels, governments, cities, casinos, the military and various companies around the country.

But mostly his letters are beyond ridiculous. Like the letter he wrote to a restaurant in California about his desire to dine there in about a month. He writes as a courtesy to the restaurant explaining that he travels with his own waiter to insure the best possible service. Another funny one is where he writes to the Sara Lee corporation asking if they could clear up an argument with his friend about whether or not their popular slogan “Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee” is using poor English. In another letter he writes to Alberto VO 5 company telling them how much his pet alligator loves their strawberry-scented shampoo and asking if they have any other products for alligators.

Sometimes the companies write back and those often puzzled responses are also included in Nancy’s three books. That’s where the real comedy begins. Some will brush him off politely and others offer solutions to his problems. The key is that the author writes in a rational-sounding manner about off-the-wall requests to see what response he gets.

Sure these are prank letters and purely for entertainment purposes, but you can’t help but laugh as the entries mock corporate language and business communication.

This guy could tell the Northern toilet paper and Pampers companies a thing or two. Maybe I should write a crazy letter about getting shorted on toilet paper and diapers. I should also take a cue from Mr. Nancy. I bet the letters from a nut get more attention than any other normal complaint letter ever would.

Someone should take a stand against all this creative downsizing, whether you’re nuts or not.

Mullally is a Tribune writer.

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