Thingish Things

Shaving Cream Fight

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Jun• 17•11

I’m reminded on recent mornings that it’s not just government that needs to change its ways in this country. U.S. businesses have some work to do, too, if they are going restore consumer confidence.

It comes to me when shaving. I press a button on a can of Gillette each morning and out comes a dollop of the stuff.  But it’s not really a dollop; it’s more like a splat. A big, wide pre-measured splat, large enough to shave six of my faces and I have a pretty big noggin.

I wouldn’t have noticed the palm-sized splat four years ago, or cared much about it if I did.  But these are different times; our eyes are trained for waste, and this is obvious waste.

But is it really? Gillette scientists (or accountants) calibrated the button to eject that exact amount of gel in a single squirt. Why would they make it discharge more than anyone needs, other than to make customers buy more of the stuff?  Times that by a million, as the expression goes, and we’re talking real money.

I feel that way about so many products and services today. I just assume every company is trying to rip me off where they can — I am pretty sure of it — and it’s disconcerting.
I didn’t use to feel that way.

Take Research in Motion. There has been no more devoted fan of its Blackberry phones than this guy over the years, but by changing their charging adapter — again — they have lost me (okay, I’m typing on one now, but I’ll get them eventually.)

There was no reason for RIM to create a new “micro USB” adapter other than to sell a  new line of chargers — micro USB car chargers, travel chargers, office chargers… It was functionally unnecessary; they just wanted to squeeze their customers for some extra money.  (This morning we see why.  RIM is getting hammered by its Android and Iphone competitors. But is angering loyal customers the right way out?  Probably not.) Other products, like appliances, seem to be scheduled to break. Six months after their warranties expire they self-destruct.

The worst offenders, of course, are the banks. What they have done with credit cards rates should be criminalized. I have never — except maybe 30 years ago in college — paid a credit card bill more than a week or two after receiving it, and my interest rate is so high that I am too embarrassed to state it publicly. It makes me feel like a personal failure and I haven’t done anything wrong.

A 9% credit rate can jump to a 30% with no apparent reason. One could borrow money on the street — Vinnie Goombatz Street, not Wall Street — cheaper than that. The only difference is that Vinnie will break your legs. The banks keep customers alive to suckle off them for the span of their lives.  I haven’t charged on a credit card – I use an Amex – for at least five years as a result.

My older daughters and I have taken to playing a game where we search for lies in television advertisements. I hate to make them cynical, but I don’t want them to be suckers like their step-father. They have gotten good at it.  They can listen to commercials with their eyes shut now and hear all the rhetorical obliques and downright misrepresentations.  It’s a handy skill to have today.

I am a Republican through and through, so I’m not looking for new laws to make companies behave better.  I want companies to behave honorably because it’s the right thing to do – and because it is a good long-term business strategy.  But it’s all quick buck today, and that can’t be good.

What’s the difference between politics and business today, and old boss of mine likes to  ask.  In politics it’s dog eat dog, and in business it’s just the opposite.

Whatever happened to the handshake deal?


You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. Your Friend says:

    Sincere thanks for this piece, Billy.

    I almost thought you were going to come out in support of Elizabeth Warren. Almost.

    You’ll be waiting for a long time for companies to do the right thing. The open market is just a metaphor for sanctioned organized crime.

  2. Me says:

    Geez, Billy, have a little more faith than that. Read my books!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.