(Or "This way to the Egress")

     A month or so ago I was putting a new roll of toilet paper on the roller in my bathroom, and I noticed that the roll seemed too short for the fixture. I suppose that sounds odd—after all, who really pays any mind to the width of a toilet paper roll except the most anal sort of person—however, I installed all of the bathroom hardware in our house after we bought it and I am the type who notices things like this. In fact, I had placed the roller end-posts very carefully. They were just far enough apart so a standard sized roll could turn freely, but not so much that there would be too much free play. The ideal is slightly tensioned, but non-binding movement of the roll, so that I can use a single hand to pull the desired length of paper from the roll and then tear the paper with a quick snap and sideways rip. The undesirable alternative is two or three feet of extra paper spinning off a too-freewheeling roll and cascading to the floor. Why one hand? As often as not, I've got a book or crossword puzzle in the other hand that I don't want to put down. Simple.

     Anyway, I was sure I had a mutant roll on my hands, so I pulled another roll from the newly opened 12-pack and discovered that it was the same width as the first one. All of them were. Thinking now that I might have misremembered the end-post placement, but wanting to be sure, I went to another bathroom and pulled a roll from one of the older 12-packs stored there. Suffice to say, I was a little surprised (but pleased in an A-ha! sort of way) to find that the older rolls were indeed wider than the rolls in the newer package, as can be seen in this picture:

TP Roll Size Comparison


     Even with the evidence in front of me, however, I was unwilling to accept without proof that this was done intentionally, but I only had to look at the packaging to see that it was! The Kleenex-Cottonelle brand manager had taken a page from the notebooks of ground coffee producers, candy bar makers, airline seat designers, and other American businesses that found they could increase profits without overly alienating customers just by reducing the size or quality of the product and leaving the price alone. Think Tootsie Rolls, which are shorter now by at least a quarter-inch than they were 40 years ago, and thinner too, I believe. And don't even get me started on coffee, which used to come in 16oz cans, but now comes in 13oz or 12.5oz cans, along with the claim that you can make the same amount of coffee with fewer grounds. I don't know about anyone else, but I still use three level scoops of the same measuring spoon I've been using for almost 20 years because using less just doesn't make coffee that tastes as good, no matter how many times I tap my heels together and say "Good to the last drop!"  As for Cottenelle, I imagine that somewhere in Kimberly-Clarkville, a very self-satisfied brand manager is enjoying a sizable bonus for earning the company an extra penny or two per roll, which is no trivial amount given the volume of sales. I'd guess the profits work out to be several hundred thousand dollars a year just from sales revenue, and that doesn't even factor in the savings from reduced packaging and transportation costs (smaller packages mean more of them fit in the shipping container)—and all without actually improving the product or adding to its value!

     Cottonelle has clearly gone the way of many other American brands in the pursuit of profits, and the outcome is that consumers who trusted the Kleenex name got shortchanged on something about as personal as one can imagine in an American life, without so much as a warning or an explanation. And no matter what the company claims, there is no way we're still getting the same utility for our money because no matter how many ways you might try, you cannot make a two-ply square of toilet paper cover more territory or clean better by making the square smaller! And if that were not insulting enough, there is this blurb on the Kimberly-Clark Company Profile webpage.

"Throughout our 135-year history, Kimberly-Clark has adhered to a set of simple yet insightful values established by our founders—quality, service, and fair dealing."


     Yeah, right. That's why the change was heralded on the package with a 'new and improved' banner, eye-catching multihued ribbons, bold text, and other ornaments.  NOT!  In fact, the only indication on the package that there was a change are the new dimensions, printed in low-contrast colors, of course. And why? Because the company was hoping its customers would be too busy or too trusting to notice.

     Well I noticed, and on our next trip to the supermarket after I found we'd been ripped-off, we looked for and purchased a brand that had rolls the same width we had been using all along. Indeed, we found that other brands we liked had retained the old standard and that Cottonelle seemed to be the innovator; consequently, even if all of the other TP producers follow suit (which they almost certainly will once they find most people haven't noticed), we will likely not again purchase a package of Kimberly-Clark brand toilet paper. This may sound like a silly and meaningless threat, but I don't care. I take seriously my right to vote with my wallet, and I am voting to spend my money on products whose manufacturers pay more than lip service to the notions of quality, service, and fair dealing.

[ * Cottonelle and Kleenex are registered trademarks of Kimberly-Clark Worldwide, Inc., Tootsie Roll is a registered trademark of Tootsie Roll Industries, Inc.; "Good to the last drop!" is a trademarked phrase belonging to the Maxwell House Coffee Brand, which is part of Kraft Foods, Inc.; the phrase "This way to the Egress" was coined by P.T. Barnum and supposedly placed throughout his museum to fool people into leaving so they would make way for other visitors—to re-enter, they'd have to pay again. ]

     This post was revised on 14 Sep 08.
 
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