Stay Tuned/29 June 1997

From Eccentric Flower


stay tuned

29 June 1997
(Sunday Papers)

Saw some really good ads this week - an ad for the peach and nectarine growers' association which was a parody of National Enquirer-style tabloids; an ad for Kodak which indicated how their processing features (index print, etc) will make it easy to humiliate the kids with the baby photos when they get older; and so forth. But this column isn't about good ads ... so let's proceed.

Not Sold In Any Store

I suppose I might as well get The Best Can Opener Of Its Kind out of the way first. Nearly everything about this ad amuses me. There's a little TV-shaped bubble in the corner, first off, that says "Similar to items seen on TV." Good start, eh?

The Best Can Opener Of Its Kind (that's the only name the product is given in the ad) can be yours for only $9.97, and if you buy one in this special Introductory Offer, you get the second one free, which doesn't strike me as a sign of confidence in the can opener, since most households only seem to need one can opener at a time. Maybe you're supposed to bring the other one to your summer house, or your yacht. (No doubt you amassed your entire fortune from the savings on bargains like this one.)

And what makes it The Best Can Opener Of Its Kind?

At Last! An Easy Way To Open Cans

This is no ordinary can opener. Amazing opener cuts along the side of the can under the thick safety lid, leaving a smooth edged lid. Conventional can openers open the top of the can, leaving a jagged edged lid. With this opener lids won't fall into food.

That prose is a mess, but the pictures make clear what they mean: it cuts just below the lip, removing the entire top, lip and all, in one piece. There is an interesting graphic involving two hands: in one half, a top removed by a conventional can opener is being pressed edge-on against a hand, and there is a big red X over the photo. The other half has the new smooth-edged top being pressed against a hand - look, Ma, no X. How often do you decide, after opening a can, to roll the jagged edge against your hand anyway? Do they think we're stupid? Masochistic?

Incidentally, the lid won't fall into the food, but depending on how full the can is, you may find the contents slosh out unexpectedly as you're finishing the job. But this begs the larger point.

This is actually the second variant can opener I've seen in the last four months. The other uncrimped the top, actually unbending the little fold of metal that holds the top onto the can body. Are can openers really that flawed? I mean, I always figured a normal can opener was about as good as that design was going to get. I'm not sure there's much room for improvement here. People who complain about can openers usually bought one for two bucks at the grocery store - that kind opens about three cans well; after that it's useless.

I dunno. Some folks will buy anything, I guess.

Oh Say Can You See ...

Looka this. Ain't it disgusting? Having spent the last couple of weeks defending the one true Rice Krispies Treat against these Johnny-Come-Latelys, I felt it was fair to strike a blow for the opposition.

Actually, I've been hearing from several fans of the Golden Grahams Bars, so I may actually have to go try them. Who knows? I may even retract my opinion. (So far everyone has been unanimous on the Cap'n Crunch Bars, though.)

In Heaven No One Bakes

Got an ad here for an icebox pie made with cream cheese, with the caption above.

Whew. I'm not sure what I dislike about it exactly, but it seems somewhat misguided, if nothing else. "In heaven no one bakes"? In heaven everyone buys junk food? In heaven everyone eats cream cheese? In heaven baking is not considered a recreational activity? What exactly are we trying to say here, people?

The Big Pickle

Yes, that pickle is nearly the same size as the hamburger patty. It's distorted a little by tricky photography, but the picture of the jar makes it clear: these are big pickles, the approximate diameter of eggplant slices.

How did they make these? They frighten me. Does Claussen have some sort of mutant-pickle-breeding program? Have Mulder and Scully been told about this?

Chicken ... Twisted

I have an ad here from Kentucky Fried Chicken, whom, as you'll recall, took any trace of human warmth out of their corporate identity by legally changing their name to KFC, and whom of late have been seen merging their restaurant spaces with Taco Bell. (I blame it all on PepsiCo.)

On July 4, when everybody in the country is either getting drunk or seeing Men In Black or both, KFC will introduce the Chicken Twister, which appears from here to be composed of chicken (skinless strips), bacon, lettuce, tomatoes (or maybe they're red bell peppers - hard to tell), shredded cheese, and ranch dressing, all tucked into an oversized tortilla wrapper - the kind of abomination usually just referred to as a "wrap."

I have eaten wrap sandwiches on occasion, and even a good one every now and then, but I can't help longing for simpler times when there was a restaurant named Kentucky Fried Chicken and it had this big rotating bucket on the sign, and it did only one thing, and did it well. Things like this make me feel prematurely ancient.

Caution - Explosive Soap

Why is it desirable for my brand of soap to catapult me out of the shower?

Why is it desirable for my soap to wake me up in the morning (Coast, once upon a time) or make my skin greasy (Dove, Caress, et alia) or attract pretty young Irish colleens (Irish Spring, but not for a long time, thank heavens) or who knows what-all else?

Am I missing something? Is everyone else having an orgasmic time in the shower with their soap (apart from the direct physical methods, that is)? Or is there really any point to soap other than removing dirt, a task which all soaps have been able to do passably well since man first poured some wood ash water into a tub of fat?

I'm serious about this. I want to know what soap you use and why. If there were ever an industry where the consumer's brand preferences are wholly contrived, this is it. Challenge that premise: defend your choice of soap.

Fair's fair: I use Ivory because it's cheap and simple. If there's a local brand of plain castile soap that's cheaper (i.e. when my grocery store has a few bars of Kirk's), I generally buy that instead.

Let me know if you try the mutant pickles. I want to see if you suddenly start developing inexplicable urges to travel to New Mexico and howl at the Air Force.

Hindsight: 26 February 2007

The comment in the beginning which noted "we're not here to talk about good ads" is one of several reasons that I expanded the scope of this column at the beginning of October 1997. I wanted to be able to praise as well as bury, you might say.

Consumer Reports did an article on the variant can openers a few months later, and was just as unimpressed as I was. In addition to the points I raised, they noted that the kind which cut the entire top off, rim and all, leave an exposed edge on the can which is no less sharp. Sure, you can roll the cut-off piece (with the rim) against your hand ... but the can itself will always have an edge, no matter how you slice it.

For a later take on yet another can opener variant, try the Sharper Image rant.

The mutant pickles never did, as far as I know, show up in my supermarket - one of the never-never-land products I keep looking for, along with the cinnamon-laced Hungry Jack biscuits which will be mentioned later. Several people wrote in to say that the pickles weren't as big as the photo made them out to be, and others theorized that they were merely fat pickles which had been cut in an odd diagonal way. All theories are unproven at this time.

The KFC rant gets extended into a full-length screed later on. By the by, KFC hasn't been owned by PepsiCo for a while. In October 1997, they spun off their three fast-food holdings into Tricon Global Restaurants; when Tricon picked up two more chains in 2002, the name seemed obsolete, and they renamed themselves to Yum! Brands Inc. I would comment on the stupidity of this name, but in a world of Diageos, Altrias, and Novartises, it's actually just a misdemeanor.

I added a link to Kirk's in the article. In 1997 they didn't have a website. I still buy their stuff, but I also buy a lot of "natural" soaps which have hard bars without obvious perfumes that last a reasonable amount of time. I've always had the complaint with Ivory that the bars seem to evaporate as soon as they're unwrapped; in recent years the scent has begun to bother me as well.

The handful of responses I got about the great soap debate were, by and large, pretty sensible, with people claiming to buy soap because of price or lack of perfumes or other good reasons. I didn't get one response I considered to be an irrational brand loyalty - which means you're all either a level-headed lot or you're lying.

and now back to our program

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