If you've been to the supermarket lately, you may have noticed a word that's been appearing with increasing frequency -- and no, it's not "Sale." The word is "Classic," and it's fast becoming the most overused term on the consumer landscape, as marketers seek to imbue old brands with a new cachet. >>


Remember the old Saturday Night Live skit about the dessert topping that's also a floor wax? The folks at Hunt-Wesson must have had that in mind when they came up with Orville Redenbacher's Popping & Topping, a flavored oil that at the very least gets points for product versatility. >>


Behind virtually every simple packaged good is an industry filled with its own jargon, its own specialized equipment, its own little set of rules, assumptions, and protocols. Most of us never come into contact with any of this, but every now and then something floats into our field of vision to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the world behind the finished product....Happily, a classic example recently landed in my mailbox: the Dadant 2001 Wholesale Beekeeping Catalog. >>


It's been a while since Inconspicuous Consumption took a look at product names, which is always a fruitful realm to examine. Here are a few that have recently caught my attention...


By now we're all used to seeing the various "New and Improved!" claims that marketers slap on their products. "More Buttery Than Ever!," "Now More Cleaning Power!," and so on. After a lifetime of being assaulted with these declarations on a near-daily basis, we tend to become blind to them -- they fade into the background. Personally, I've become so inured to such language that I almost overlooked one of the more curious recent examples of the genre: a can of Progresso Red Clam Sauce with Tomato and Basil, emblazoned with a banner that reads, "Now More Flavor!"


"When I was growing up, I would often take the train from my Long Island hometown to New York City, and my favorite part of the trip was when the conductors came by to punch everyone's ticket. The hole punchers they used weren't like the ones we had in school -- they were heavier, more industrial-looking, and instead of producing a circular punch, they left a crisp, abstract squiggle, like the shape of some obscure third-world country. The conductors wielded these hole punchers as if they were highly sophisticated tools, and placed them in little leather holsters on their belts after completing a round of ticket-punching. It all seemed incredibly cool."

"It seems that pineapple-flavored LifeSavers -- which happen to be my favorites in the classic Five Flavor roll -- had been deemed to be "Y2K-incompatible," and consumers would therefore be offered a chance to vote on a solution to this oh-so-pressing problem. The options: strawberry, watermelon, or retain pineapple by 'upgrading its Y2K-compatibility.'"

"Back when I was a kid, the toothpaste market was pretty simple: Families with children used either Crest or Colgate (the latter of which, you may recall, boasted of using 'MFP Fluoride,' which was actually redundant because MFP stood for 'maximum fluoride protection'); single people who were more worried about dating than about cavities used Ultra-Brite; and people who were concerned about their breath used Close-Up. These days the situation's way more complex."

"Even the checkout girl at my supermarket, who's usually in her own little glassy-eyed zone of indifference, was shocked out of her stupor when I handed her my box of 3 Point Pops -- 'Geez,' she said as she examined the box, 'that there's some weird-looking cereal!'

"As its name suggests, Flambé Fanfare is designed to help you set foods aflame -- a nicely specialized function. But since this can just as easily (and more commonly) be done with cognac, what's so remarkable about Flambé Fanfare?"

There are some products that just wouldn't be the same without certain crucial details -- the tiny little hole near the center of a Bic ball-point pen, for example, or the cotton in a bottle of aspirin. Take away this type of small but emblematic element and everything changes -- have Band-Aids ever been the same since they did away with the little red tear-string?

"What he'd given to me was a piece of hardware of a variety I'd never seen before. About two and a half inches long, it looked sort of like a screw, except that it had two distinct thread patterns -- one at each end -- separated by a middle section with no thread pattern at all. Despite being slightly bent, a little rusty, and generally battered, it had a certain elegance."

" Their flagship product -- the Swing-A-Way model #407, one of which is probably in your kitchen right now -- hasn't changed in 44 years, and has become an American classic along the way. It doesn't exactly make opening a can fun (let's face it, nothing can do that), but it does give the task a certain satisfying ease and efficiency."

"... the key moment for me is when I drop my coin in the slot, which releases the nine balls down a ramp -- the balls are all released at once and proceed down the ramp in unison, one after the other, so they all come to a near-simultaneous stop when the bottom ball reaches the base of the ramp, which produces a spectacularly satisfying Click! sound that resonates throughout the room."

"I was mucking around at a flea market a few years ago and came upon a functional Magic Door machine (or, rather, a Cavalier CSS-64, which is its official and rather unwieldy name). A few hundred dollars and some heavy lifting later, it was nestled in a nook of my kitchen. By checking the serial number against the manufacturer's records, I learned that it was "born" in 1967."

"...when an acquaintance recently sent me the FrigidMidget, a plastic ice-cube tray that's about the same size as conventionaltrays but has many more individual cube molds. So instead of making the standard 14 or 16 ice cubes, the Frigid Midget's six-by-fifteen gridpattern results in a whopping 90 cubes, but each one is really tiny --sure enough, it's both less and more."

"The endless repetition of "Magic" (a "Magic" mantra, if you will), combined with each cleaner's incredible specificity of use, soon induces a Zen-like trance state, from which the only escape is to purchase the entire product line, en masse. It's no longer enough to have just one or two of the cleaners -- you have to have them all."

"As for the product itself, it tastes pretty much the same as any other pocky I've tried, and it certainly doesn't look very masculine -- the long, thin sticks are too skinny to even be considered phallic."

"Almost all ratchet tools are pleasing to use, but the Shur-Krimp is special -- squeeze the handle down toward its base and you're rewarded with 11 crisp Click! sounds, followed by a small metallic Ping! as the lock mechanism releases, and then a sort of Zip! as the handle returns to its original position."

"I recently attended a lecture by a British marketing consultant, who said Americans tend to study a product's ingredients listing, nutritional info, and fine print more than people from other countries."

"The development of the ReeseSticks moniker isn't hard to figure out -- the marketing team probably wanted to avoid having too many "s" sounds packed together in the middle of the product name."

MP 4000 Scale

Lawn Paint / Cow Stik

Canned Whole Chicken

Ancient Grains

Misc. Tidbits