Dawn bottle

We’re running out of dish detergent at home. Onto the list it goes, and the next time The Kid and I are grocery shopping, we stop in the soap aisle to pick up my usual.

I’m completely brand loyal. As far as I’m concerned only one works, and I never pick up anything else. But the stuff lasts forever and there’s only two of us in our little place, so I usually get the smallest bottle possible, to leave an inch more of space in our tiny kitchen.

These days, I guess they don’t sell the tiny bottle anymore. There’s something smallish in my brand, but twice the size of what I usually get. Oh, well. It’s got a little sticker at the top to entice me: 20% MORE.

Ooh. Everybody likes 20% more free. Remember, now, there was no chance I was getting any other brand—and what I really wanted was 50% less—yet still, I feel kind of happier when I pick up the 20% MORE bottle.

‘Til I read the fine print. Because it’s not 20% more free.


Bottle detail: 20% MORE

20% MORE than other 20 ounce bottles?

Oh, yes. Quite true. That’s because it’s a 24 ounce bottle. Duh.

Looky, they can do math! Just like The Kid!

Why not say, “300% MORE than other 6 ounce bottles” and really impress people?

Because, well, that would be obvious trickery. Nobody would fall for that without getting out their reading glasses. This is designed to sail past my b.s. detector. I guess if it’s not obvious, it’s okay for it to be intended to mislead the buyer.

I’m not going to buy another brand, because I want my dishes clean, darn it, but for a moment I’m still tempted to put it back on the shelf. Maybe go on a dishwashing strike or something. (Nice fantasy, anyway.) The Kid sees me hesitate with the bottle in the air, and whisks it out of my hand.

“We should get it! Look they’re donating a dollar to help wildlife!”

Aww. Well, I’m getting a bottle that’s too big for our needs, and I’m paying more than I thought I would for dish soap today, but I’m saving wildlife. Look at that cute baby seal! Don’t you want to save him?

So we buy the soap, and the dishes are saved from a dastardly strike. Weeks pass before The Kid ends up doing the dishes.

(See why I want to go on strike? But that’s another story.)

“Mama,” she yells from the kitchen while I eat my bonbons and read romance novels in my silk lounger with my spare 15 minutes that I don’t know what to do with.


“The bottle of soap. We didn’t donate yet.”

Naturally I am far too absorbed in lounging to remember back to the dish soap, so a delightful comedy of errors ensues while we yell to each other over the running water in the kitchen, trying to figure out what the heck she means. Finally she brings the bottle in to me in a great huff to demonstrate her point.


Bottle detail: Wildlife donation

Can you read that? Me neither. And for you it’s blown up a lot bigger than it was for me.

It says, “Must visit to activate donation.”

The Kid suggests they might write next time, “You didn’t donate, you fool, you just think you did.”

Hoodwinked. Twice on one bottle.

A couple of weeks later when I found the time (guess I must have been out of bonbons that night), I visited www dot blah blah—almost out of spite. (Not an ideal state in which to think awww about the baby seals.) Since I’m not wearing my reading glasses when I’m washing the dishes, I would never have realized that we hadn’t made any donation, without The Kid’s younger eyes, and I’m still kind of ticked about it, but we can’t let down those seals.

When I get there, of course, I discover we must jump through more hoops, proving we bought the bottle not with the easy-to-read barcode, dark-blue-on-white, but with a special donation code, stamped on the plastic bottle, black ink over the dark blue liquid within. So lacking in contrast, and so tiny, that neither of us saw it at first (even though the site tells you where to look for it). So dark that we had to use a flashlight through the bottle to make it show up. And it had one number rubbed off. So we had to keep guessing until we got it.

Is there an MCE lesson for small business in all this?

Absolutely. In fact, there are two:

1. I want your business to sound wonderful. I want you to give every customer more than they ever imagined when they buy from you, for the same great price they agreed to. But please, don’t let them imagine they’re getting “more,” only to find out later that you’d inflated or distorted your claims. Trust is gone after that, and the smaller your biz, the more trust is as precious as cash to your growth. (Well, almost.)

2. We all make our customers jump through certain hoops to work with us.

Some are necessary, like contact forms, email addresses, and phone numbers. These may cut down on contacts with new prospects but we make them as easy and pleasant as possible so the barrier is not too great.

Some are unnecessary, like endless phone trees to get to the department you want, or memberships when your Ideal Customer just wants a one-time-shot of what you offer (or isn’t even sure yet). These cut down on your business a lot. If they’re helping you focus on the customers you can help best, great! If you’re wondering where your sales are, though, look around. Give strong consideration before putting up those barriers.

Some hoops lie between dishonest and insane. If this company wanted to give their money away in this highly visible way, and was trying to do good for the li’l critters, and not just increase their own sales, they’d have made it easy (happens at checkout, no action required). Or much more possible (big words that you can see when you’re deciding to buy; big code nobody can miss).

The fine print on this bottle also says “up to $500,000.”

I thought that was pretty low, and that a lot of folks would want to do good but find they were over the maximum, until I got there and saw they’re only 2/3 of the way there.

Think the fact that lots of folks don’t even know about the barriers the company’s put up has anything to do with that?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson