Every day we do what we are told, at least when it comes to consumer products.
There are two ways to sell consumer products:
1. Make a product that meets a need in the marketplace.
2. Make a product for which there is no need, but then create the need afterwards. This is done by advertising.
To a very great degree, the second approach now dominates the market place. This has come about as a result of more and more sophisticated marketing strategies, and an ever increasing understanding of exactly how gullible people are. And it’s happened to all of us.
Probably the best example of this is Cold Power. Before this product hit the market, washing clothes in cold water was unheard of – for the simple reason that it didn’t work very well.
Another good example is the laundry prewash – the notion that we can just spray it onto something and “pop it in the wash” with results that are nothing short of magical.
The first laundry prewash, of course, was Preen, a potent product which used trichloroethane as the solvent (drycleaning fluid) and a blend of surfactants which helped it washout. Although the product still exists, it is no longer solvent-based and is nowhere near as effective as it used to be.
But before Preen told us about the wonders of prewashes, it was well understood that the best way to get stains out was by elbow grease.
Last week I told Tony McManus how to get ink stains out of his shirt. But if you didn’t happen to have any isopropanol floating around, you could use elbow grease. It wouldn’t be as quick, but it would certainly work. If you wet the area with the ink stain and then rubbed in some dishwashing detergent (or better, laundry detergent), rinsed it out, and then repeated, eventually you would see the ink stain start to fade.If you did it long enough, it would disappear completely.
And to a large extent this is true of most stains on most garments. Another approach is to simply get a cake of cheap soap, wet the area with the stain, and rub it in, with regular rinsing.
This was the whole idea behind the Sard Wonder Soap phenomenon (remeber that?). They taught you to rub the soap directly into the stain, pop it in the wash, and hey presto. There was absolutely nothing remarkable about the soap itself. The success of the product wars 100% marketing. If Sunlight had thought of it first, they could have called it Sunlight wonder soap The interesting thing about this whole campaign is it that deliberately and specifically turned the clock back to the pre-Preen days to capture a market who were not old enough to remember the days when elbow grease was the norm.
Interestingly, they also brought out a Sard Wonder Spray, which was a seriously good laundry prewash, andt he only ever serious competitor Preen has ever had, but that’s a story for another day