Exploiting the inattentive, episode 2: The unlabeled line

Date:August 11, 2006 / year-entry #272
Orig Link:https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/oldnewthing/20060811-45/?p=30143
Comments:    42
Summary:In Episode 1 we learned that "Snide" brand powdered laundry detergent comes with a scoop that holds 5/8 cup detergent, even though the directions call for only 3/8 cup. The intent here is to get people to use more detergent than necessary, thereby increasing sales. A box of detergent which should be sufficient for 30 loads ends up running...

In Episode 1 we learned that "Snide" brand powdered laundry detergent comes with a scoop that holds 5/8 cup detergent, even though the directions call for only 3/8 cup. The intent here is to get people to use more detergent than necessary, thereby increasing sales. A box of detergent which should be sufficient for 30 loads ends up running out after only 18. Consider it "technically legal" mislabeling.

I returned to Snide brand powdered laundry detergent this week and discovered that they have taken this little trick to a new level. The markings on the side of the scoop read like this:


The accompanying instructions give these instructions for how much detergent to use:

Fill to bottom line  (3/8 cup)  for normal loads.
Fill to line 1  (1/2 cup)  for large loads.
Fill to line 2  (3/4 cup)  for extra-soiled loads.

Notice that the amount of detergent you're supposed to use on a regular basis is indicated by the bottom unmarked line, the one you will barely notice. Meanwhile, if you're inattentive and use the entire scoop, you've used one cup of detergent, over twice as much as you were intending.

My prediction: The next time I buy Snide brand powdered laundry detergent, the scoop will be 1½ cups, with an unlabeled line at 1/2 cup, another line at 3/4 cup labeled "1" and a third line at 1 cup labeled "2". The instructions will go something like this:

Fill halfway to line 1  (3/8 cup)  for normal loads.
Fill to bottom line  (1/2 cup)  for large loads.
Fill to line 1  (3/4 cup)  for extra-soiled loads.

Comments (42)
  1. I remember after reading Episode I, I went home and looked at my laundry scoop as well as read the box.  I was glad I did, because in the past I would blindly dump a full scoop in.  Now I’m in the "know" and I put in less.

    This is just like every toothpaste commercial on TV shows the person putting a huge glob on the toothbrush.  Yet every dentist I’ve talked to says a small pea-sized amount is all that’s needed.

  2. McGurk says:

    Holy Christ…  Let’s not get too anal here, folks.  If the washing powder company is too evil, just wear your clothes in the shower…

  3. This is one of those wonderful observations that originally started me down the road to understanding economic principles.

    Even knowing how much I am "supposed" to use, I continue to use the whole scoop.  

    Why? Because even though I will use up the $7 box of detergent almost twice as fast, it is worth the $3 for me not to measure the detergent. Measuring the detergent requires me to think too much about detergent and laundry, and I don’t want to think that much about it. That would prevent me from thinking about other, more important things.

    This is also why I’m one of the few people at Microsoft who wears a dress shirt and tie every day – now that I’ve developed the habit, I don’t need to think about it anymore. The decision process is simply no longer necessary, and the default decision is unlikely to create embarrassment no matter how unusual the situation.

    If I ever encounter a need to wear an actual suit, I’ll probably switch to wearing a suit every day.

  4. Carlos says:

    Washing powder tablets are even less hassle:


    It says to use two, but I always find one to be adequate.

  5. vince says:

    Maybe the person who designed this is a C programmer and thus labeled the lines starting with zero…

  6. Phil says:

    And… you don’t even need to use the bottom line, cut that in half and your clothes still come out smelling and looking just as clean.  

  7. Miles Archer says:

    Vince nailed it

  8. Caliban Darklock, not measuring is actually costing you much more than 3$.

    What’s really bad about this kind of labeling is not so much that you’ll be using more soap than you would otherwise but that using too much will damage your clothes more.

    So if you want to keep your new clothes feeling softer longer and you want to keep your t-shirts from sprouting holes quicker you really should just use the regular amount or less.

    Same thing goes with dryer sheets that keep the static away. I only use half a sheet. Not because I’m stingy (I bought a box a year ago and I don’t think I’m even 1/3 done) but because it’s better for the fabric.

  9. db48x says:

    Of course, sometimes the ‘directions’ on the package are where the nonsense is. Consider your average loaf of bread, where the serving size is a single slice. How are you going to make a decent sandwich out of that?

  10. Brian says:

    Guillaume speaks the truth.  At one time I used a full scoop of detergent and dried my clothes for the maximum the drier dried for.  I have since started using a half a scoop, and the minimum amount of time in the drier and my clothes have lasted much much longer.

  11. gid says:

    Someone who live in Japan for a few years told me this story: a firm selling bottled seasoning for cooking asked a bunch of housewives how to make people use more of their products. And their answer was: make the holes on the bottles bigger. And that’s what they did.

  12. Environ Freak says:

    Time economics is the same reason my friend uses non-rechargable batteries in her kids’ toys.

    Two working parents with two kids and assorted electronic toys. You can imagine how many batteries they use. They tried rechargable batteries but found it was too much hassle to keep track of which ones need charging.

    It’s simply easier to use primary batteries. They know it costs more and it ends up in landfill, but not having to think about batteries is worth it.

    I’ve also noticed all their toys now have a screw-on battery cover. It takes quite some to replace batteries because they always have to look for a screwdriver, and make sure the baby doesn’t then play with the screwdriver.

    [When I was a kid we were responsible for recharging our own batteries. Then again, we had only one electronic toy (a tape recorder). -Raymond]
  13. Wang-Lo says:

    I don’t use the cup that came in the box.  I use a cup that holds the exact amount of detergent I want to use in a regular load.  The cup hangs on a nail above the washing machine.  The time investment to decide to do this and to find the right size cup has more than paid off in wash-time decision savings and detergent powder savings.

    Of course, posting to this thread has just about doubled my total time investment in the problem, but as an engineer, my emotional need is to to make everyone efficient, not just me.

    My two-year-old granddaughter lives in my house, and she has her own kitchen drawer, full of mismatched spoons and incomplete measuring sets.  This is where I found the right sized cup for the laundry detergent, and another for the dishwashing detergent.  And lest you think that I’m robbing the baby, please note that she gets all the unused bogus-sized cups shipped in the clothes detergent and dish detergent boxes.  After they’ve been through the dishwasher.


  14. Brian L says:

    Maybe they are trying to make an association with driving an automatic. For normal driving, you shift to the inconspicuous (?) D, for larger loads, you shift to 1 and 2 :p

  15. Barry Leiba says:

    And yet you keep using that brand, Raymond, instead of voting with your wallet….

  16. Matt says:

    Environ Freak:

    You can recycle your old batteries at many RadioShack locations, plus other places.  See http://www.earth911.org/master.asp?s=ls&serviceid=126 for a list.

  17. Martijn says:

    I have this mouth wash that does exactly the same.  It has a fixed "cup" on top(which you fill by squeezing the bottle) which says 10 ml (milliliter) halfway the cup.  Turns out that 10 mil is actually at that the level marked by the writing (no line or anything else there), not the entire cup…

  18. jeffdav says:

    Phil is right.  My father owned a Dry Cleaners for decades and was always going on about how people use way too much detergent.  All you need is a little bit (a teaspoon or two).  What really gets the clothes clean is them rubbing against each other.

  19. James Day says:

    Caliban, I’m aware of no prohibition on gluing a filler into the bottom of the measuring cup and then ignoring the problem in the future.

  20. foxyshadis says:

    NiMH (and LIon) make recharging less hassle and expense; if the batteries go dead, charge them. If they aren’t dead yet and you think about it, charge them anyway. Leave them on as long as you want, take them off and mix & match them all you want. No obnoxious investment in attention required!

    Except for being a little pricier and a little less maximum capacity, they solve all the disadvantages of old NiCd rechargables. (Except for being so easy to lose…)

  21. Scott says:

    I was thinking of this post when doing laundry this evening.  My detergent cup has 1, 2, and 3.  1 is for small-medium loads, and 2 is for heavy loads.   3?  3 isn’t even mentioned.  And 3 is still not full.


  22. Cheong says:

    Guillaume: Certainly I have no concern how you spend your money, but most detergents that we use are harmful to the planet, so do our Earth a favour to use no more than needed.

  23. steveg says:

    i recall reading somewhere that during crunchtime leading up to Windows x.y there was a request to get washing machines installed at MS so the legions could work even longer.

    I gather it was refused, which is a shame, because imagine the Detergent Delivery System (DDS) a few hundred stressed, sleep-deprived, caffeine-injecting geeks would have come up with.

  24. Milton says:

    When I was a kid…wait.  You had toys?  Electric ones?

    *goes off to play with his rock*

  25. Archangel says:

    Simple solution to the battery saga: Give the kids exactly as many rechargeables as they need and a charger, then tell them it’s their problem to keep the batteries charged.

    If they’re too young to recharge the batteries, they’re too young to play with the toy :-P

  26. Julian says:

    Apparently the original owner of the Colman’s brand of mustard always said that he made his fortune from the mustard left at the side of the plate.

    Another example of this is the bread yeast I use – the instructions tells you to use the whole packet (7g), but 1/2 packet works just as well (even 2 – 2.5g works well).

  27. Myria says:

    Deceptive marketing and labeling should be illegal regardless of whether in the fine details it is correct.  If it’s trying to fool people, or very often does, it is deceptive and should be banned by consumer protection laws.

    The problem is that if a government tried to do this, the lobbyists would come down on the legislatures big time.  The American system of government is not really able to act as a check against corporate power.  Only the Enrons and WorldComs have anything happen.

    Please do not take this to refer to Microsoft monopoly charges; I don’t want to start that kind of fight here, and I’m talking about deceptive practices not anti-competitive practices.

  28. Moz says:

    You lot make it all sound so hard. I know the same deal about laundry powder, and my approach is to use about a third of a scoop. By digging it it in and scooping some into the machine. No measuring, no faffing.

    Oh, and don’t forget the last load of washing you can do by pouring water into the box as dissloving the last of the detergent out. And cutting the end off the toothpast tube gets you another 3 or 4 brushings.

    I’m not stingy, I just dislike shopping.

  29. Dewi Morgan says:

    I think most US washing machines are uprights, and most European ones are side-loaders. As well as being far more economical, side-loaders have a drawer that you pour the powder into. This is marked off in three levels. So I just don’t use a scoop, and pour in by eye as much as I think I need, according to load.

    I use a non-rechargeable wireless optical mouse, more than six years old I believe. So I have two tubs by my battery charger: flat and full batteries. When the "full" tub starts to get empty, I load up the charger from the "empty" tub. Someone sleep deprived from babies could still manage this feat trivially.

    I *am* stingy, but then I run my own company and never charge as much as I need to, so that’s kind of required.

  30. Lars says:

    How to make decent sandwich out of one slice of bread?

    Easy: Take a slice of bread. Put some cheese/deli meat/peanut butter/jam/… on it. Bend over. Voila: Instant Sandwich.

    Of course this works only if you have good bread (having lived in Germany for almost 30 years, I’m kinda spoiled). In a way, serving sizes are like formal gas mileages: good for comparing stuff, but you have to apply modifications to fit your life style.

    But regarding the original washing powder observation: yeah, I noticed the same. The stuff I use proscribes way more washing powder than my washer is actually able to dissolve in one load – even though the powder claims to be made for HE washers like I have. Oh well, manuals are starting points, not just in software.

  31. joejoe says:

    It’s ironic that everyone is assuming evil intent. I don’t like spilled laundry detergent, so I’m glad the measuring cup is bigger than the amount I want to use, it is less likely to spill that way.

  32. db48x says:

    Lars: oh, sure, I know you can fold the bread over like that. Still, that’s only half a sandwich ;)

    Anyway, I think everyone should be more observant. Maybe this is a conspiracy to trick people into improving themselves.

  33. Rob says:

    If memory serves – and it may well not – using too much washing powder in the machine also shortens the life of the machine as it can cause the internals to bung up with caked washing powder… Another reason to not use copious quantities of washing powder…

  34. Stephen Jones says:

    The actual cost of using too much detergent in terms of additional expenditure on water purifiers (or worse the growth of green algae where the detergent is untreated) is far more than the profit the company makes on you using it.

  35. Peter says:

    I would think that of all people a Microsoft employee would be a little more willing to give a company the benefit of the doubt. The internet runs on conspiracy theories around crash reporting, activation, and just about any little UI widget that someone simply thought was a good idea.

  36. sfb says:

    Does the US get the slightly daft adverts with the message "your washing machine problems are down to limescale. Use Calgon" ?

  37. xrxca says:

    Julian, on the yeast issue there are way to many variables in that one, Altitude, water hardness etc. they proabably package for the "worst case" scenario, I’ve never used the packets myself.   I’ve been trying for years to duplicate my Grandmother bread recipe, the biggest problems are she was close to sea level, and used a well that added a horrid amount of extra minerals to her water. I’m a much higher altitude, and on a municipal water supply.  It’s taken quite a bit of experimentation to get close.  Avoid "Quick Rise Yeast", switch water to milk, and milk to buttermilk, temp. adjustments, a higher gluten flour and a slight increase in the salt and I’m close, not quite there yet, but close…

  38. Dave Harris says:

    Carlos: you’re lucky they supply two small tablets rather than one big one. One of the drawbacks of tablets is that the user loses precise control over dosage.

    foxyshadis: best not to mix and match batteries that use different chemistries, or that come from different manufacturers or have different charge states for that matter. Li-Ion chemistry is not intrinsically safe and modern batteries have high energy densities. If abused you can get rapid venting with flame.

  39. James W says:

    Is it not possible that the size of the average load of laundry is getting larger?  I can think of a few obvious reasons for this:

    1.  Technology.  Perhaps there are larger washing machines for cheaper.  I haven’t done any marketing research, but considering that everything else has grown in capacity, this seems plausible.

    2.  Obesity.  Since people are getting bigger in general, it seems quite logical to me that the standard load of laundry will increase in size.  There is definitely a growing trend towards serving the "larger" market in America.  Why not the clothing industry, its first line of service?  Or do we assume that larger individuals prefer to do more loads of laundry?

    Obviously #2 is not orthogonal to #1.

  40. Rohan says:

    It’s a shame that we have to be more attentive to this sort of trickery, but it’s been going on for years in one form or another. Another tactic that used to irk me was the design of some products placing a hole on a point of pressure (eg on a pen) so that after a while the thing would break from over-use

  41. Norman Diamond says:

    Hey!  Who’s accusing me of making laundry detergent?  Hold on now while I wash someone’s mouth out with, um, never mind.

    Let’s look for clues as to who the real maker is.  The lines are documented at least as well as some MSDN stuff.  Look for the instructions and you’ll find them, and it even looks like they might all be correct.

  42. It’s easy! Seriously. It’s easy

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