Stay Tuned/13 April 1997

From Eccentric Flower


stay tuned

13 April 1997
(Sunday Papers)

Good Grief, More Tampons

I'm not really completely obsessed with tampons - no more so than the next person - there's just been a lot of tampon news of late. What can I say? I mean, this is the week that I encountered the ad for new Playtex Slimfits - "A tampon as thin as your pinky" - and read the news about about Procter & Gamble purchasing Tambrands. I don't make this stuff up.

Covering those one at a time:

Playtex Slimfits, if you haven't seen the advertising, are apparently being pitched to the first-time crowd as being less uncomfortable than other, wider tampons. Never mind the fact that o.b. and the Tampax Naturals tampons (discussed on 16 March) are basically the same size (although the Playtex applicator makes it hard to tell). Did you ever think that maybe the tampon manufacturers had a vested interest in keeping women in the dark about their bodies, in order to exploit that old Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt? I'm just being cynical again, right?

More important news is the pending acquisition of Tambrands Inc. by Procter & Gamble. Now, some history for those who came in late, or those who weren't paying attention in the first place (take your seats, gentlemen, there will be a test.) Procter & Gamble were the people who made the despised and loathed Rely tampon, way back when. For the full story of Rely and the way its name was forever connected to the unpleasant discovery of toxic shock syndrome, read the Rely pages at the Museum of Menstruation (go on - it won't hurt you), or ask a woman who was using tampons seventeen years ago.

Anyhow, P&G haven't dared market a tampon since then, but they do make the best-selling pad, Always. Tampax, of course, makes the best-selling tampon, but their market share is flat and the company is not the overall leader in the market. (That would be Kimberly-Clark, with Kotex and New Freedom.) Buying Tambrands basically gives P&G a way to get safely back into the tampon market again, without attendant bad P.R.

This is big business, folks. Care to guess the dollar value of the tampon/pad/pantyliner market in this country? (Answer at bottom of page - go on, take a guess.) There are only five major players. Soon there will be only four. The FTC is not expected to offer much resistance to the deal.

The Continuing Cereal

Found the following today:

What is the Easy Saver Coupon?
The ONE coupon that's good on ALL Post or Nabisco cereals!
ALL brands.
ALL sizes.
ANY combination.

But again (see last week), it's a Post ad: The cereal boxes shown are "the Post family of products." No Nabisco boxes are shown, and Kraft Foods (i.e. Post) is the sole coupon redeemer.

As last week, I was mystified by this. Post and Nabisco are not supposed to be friends, especially not after Post's amazing price-undercut tactic from earlier this year. I knew there was money involved here, and I was determined to find out where.

I do allow my imagination to run away with me. I discovered that the real explanation is much less fun: Nabisco only made three types of cereal, and they sold out of the breakfast market to Post in 1993, apparently allowing the logo to remain on the boxes. I thought Nabisco had more cereal than that. Oh, well.

Singing Soap Saga

A Blast of Pure Refreshment ...
[picture of Shield soap]
and a Song ...
[picture of an unlabelled cassette]
Could Get You to
[Universal Studios Hollywood logo]

Enter the "Singing In The Shower" Contest Today!

Just a really silly contest idea, right? Gets even sillier when you read the fine print:
1. Record a song (2-4 minutes in length) on audio tape using Lever Personal Wash brand names (Dove, Caress, Lever 2000, and/or Shield).
2. Type or hand print the lyrics of the song on a piece of paper.
3. Take a photograph of the act (up to 4 people) that recorded the song (no larger than 5" by 7").
4. Affix name, address, and phone number to tape, lyrics, and photograph.
5. Complete this official entry form or hand print name, complete address, and telephone number on a 3" by 5" card.

I'm still hung up on item one. I just can't find anything that rhymes with Lever 2000.

Boyz In the Hood

Hood ice cream, a brand with distribution only in the New England area, proudly notes this in a corner of their ad:

What's in a name?
Every Hood package proudly bears the name of the Ice Cream Specialist who made it - people like Molly Mackie, whose attention to detail makes each scoop taste just right!

Not to imply any disrespect for what these people do, but I think if I were working on an assembly line in a commercial packing plant, I wouldn't want my name on each package. If the customer complains about the ice cream, are there eventual repercussions for the poor woman on the line? Seems like that would have to be the real purpose of this tag (it's also got a time/date stamp). Heaven knows the consumers can't possibly care much.

In the Doll Museum

And now for the image-heavy portion of today's program. Welcome to the Museum of Odd Idollatry [sic].


From the "Barbie Couture Collection," no less. It's always depressing to see a Barbie doll which costs more than you spend on clothing in a month. (Of course, clothing for me is of the low-cost hacker variety.)

The best thing I can say about this is that the "Portrait in Taffeta Barbie," here, is not as offensive as the one a couple of years ago with the Bob Mackie custom-designed gown. No, I don't mean a miniature copy of a Bob Mackie gown. I mean he designed it for the doll. (N.B. Checking out the site above revealed that he actually has done more than one of these. Eek!)

Coming right after the spring fashion reports as this does, that sound you hear is my stomach doing a slow roll. The doll, by the by, is $135, not counting shipping.

Actually, I confess that I find the "collector's Barbies" (in period outfits, dressed as fairy tale characters, et cetera) kinda interesting. I mean, what fun clothes! But not interesting enough to pay $100 and up - sometimes way up - for a damned Barbie doll. Not even for the "Star Trek" version.


Dolls based on characters from the movie Clueless, which somehow manage to miss the point that the movie is charming because the main character learns that there's more to life than the conspicuous-consumption mallkyrie culture, and rises above it. Instead, these dolls promote it.

"Each has a high fashion outfit, play cellular phone ... and more!" I rest my case. At least, at eighteen bucks apiece, they're cheaper than Barbie.


A porcelain doll of a little girl in a Raggedy Ann costume, complete with face paint ... holding a Raggedy Ann doll. Recursive advertising masquerading as a collectible.

Now if the Raggedy Ann doll held a tiny doll shaped like a little girl in Raggedy Ann makeup ... I might actually buy one of those. Even at $140.


This one demands a little more explanation.

I found this booklet in the airport, and I'm sorry I can only reproduce the front. It's all equally amazing - the pictures, the forms, the copy. Basically what you do is fill out a detailed form with all specifics about the child's appearance, mostly facial. Hair color, skin color, and eye color swatches to select from; eyebrows (shape and color), eyelashes, hair length, haircut, hair style, general facial shape, and a face template where you mark mole and freckle locations with a pen. You also send in two photos.

What comes back, four to six weeks later, is a soft-bodied doll with vinyl hands and face. The face has been hand-painted. The hair has been hand-styled. The resemblance to the kid's photo is eerie. You choose one of several outfits for the doll when ordering. They send an absolutely identical child-sized outfit for the kid.

They are racially diverse: the booklet is careful to show at least one little black girl and one little Asian girl. No boys, but the recommended age for the photos is a maximum of 12, so if you had a little boy with a doll thing, you could order the one that comes in overalls, with short hair etc, and maybe a nice cover letter and I bet they'd take your money anyway. Or maybe not.

Perversely tempted? The copy implies that it is perfectly acceptable for an adult to send in a photo of themselves at a tender age, and that apparently this is done on a fairly regular basis.

Here's the problem: Of the people I've shown this to, all are bothered by it, but I haven't yet heard any satisfactory reason why. It doesn't seem psychologically unhealthy for the kid (but then, what do I know?) It's a little indulgent - the child who gets one of these is probably a spoiled brat - but that's not it.

There's just something about it that's, well, weird.

If you want to witness for yourself, you might try their web site. Oh, and the doll ranges from $130 to $150, depending on which outfit you choose.

Parting Shot

And one more item from the toybox for you today.


Yes, you too can turn your child into a dart-shooting cyborg in the comfort of your own home!

I don't fight the kids-having-weapon-toys fight, because I've seen small boys pick up the most innocuous objects in the house and pretend they're guns. It's hardwired. But, you know, the kid's gonna get tired of wearing all that clammy plastic. You sweat under it and it's heavy.

Adding up the price of the four items the kid's actually wearing ... let's see ... that comes to a tidy $76. (The $15 is just for the thing on his right hand.) Pretty pricey for something the kid's going to wear around the yard for about twenty minutes.

Besides, why not just pin an "I am a geek" label on his back?

Total sales of major label tampons, pads, and panty liners in the U.S. last year: 1.7 billion dollars. Bet you guessed low.

Hindsight: 21 February 2007

In the emendations to the preceding week's entry you'll find, among the tampon comments there, a link with more about what P&G's tampon merchandising looks like, ten years after the Tambrands buyout. Short answer: Seems to have worked out reasonably well, all told.

A lot of correspondence seems to fly into my mailbox every time I write about dolls. Barbie in particular is good for a lot of mail. Everyone has a love-hate relationship with her, it seems. At the time, another project I participated in had a few things to say about Barbie-as-flawed-gender-ideal, and that, too, generated a fair amount of mail. What a strange place we live in.

The "collector Barbies" have grown many and varied enough that they now have their own site, one which looks very different from their child-focused main site. (I have changed the URLs above appropriately.)

I was one of the first to notice the oddness that is My Twinn, I think, but about four months later I began to see articles about it, et cetera. Their website continued to expand, and as of 2007 they seem to still be alive and well. They even have a designated-as-such boy doll now. (In accordance with prophecy, it's basically the same as their girl dolls, just in a boy's athletic attire - in fact the remainder of the customization form is exactly the same for both genders.)

Although I still think there's something vaguely bizarre about it, I can see the points in favor. After the original article, I got a letter from a long-time correspondent thanking me for calling it to her attention. Her child is mixed-race, and this was the only way they could get a doll for her which had the same skin color she did.

The Borg-like toy at the very end is from a Toys-R-Us circular. A field trip to Toys-R-Us was fully dissected, including more Barbie material, many months later.

and now back to our program

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