In my ongoing quest to bother people on the telephone, I recently called several consumer hotlines. These are the 1-800 numbers on the labels of many products that you can call if you have questions or comments. I wondered if they would take me seriously if all my questions and comments were dumb.
My conclusion? Oh my, yes.
* * *
Lever Bros., makers of Lever 2000 soap and Snuggle fabric softener.
ERIC: The Lever 2000 soap — where does that name come from? The “Lever” and the “2000” part.
LEVER: The manufacturer of the soap is Lever Bros.
ERIC: Oh, I see, it’s somebody’s name?
ERIC: And what about the “2000”?
LEVER: They say there’s over 2000 body parts.
ERIC: Really. Two thousand body parts?
ERIC: Do you have a list of them?
* * *
I called again and talked to someone else:
ERIC: Do you folks do the Snuggle fabric softener?
OTHER LEVER: Yes, we do, we are the manufacturers of that.
ERIC: OK, the Snuggle Bear that’s in the commercials: Do a lot of people hate that thing?
OTHER LEVER: No, actually a lot of people love it. They call and ask how they can purchase them.
ERIC: Really? People want to buy the Snuggle Bear?
OTHER LEVER: Right, yep.
ERIC: Can you?
OTHER LEVER: Well, there are promotions that go on occasionally. My question is, you ask if people hate the bear — do you love it or hate it?
ERIC: Well, see, I don’t like him, just because he’s so cute and he’s got that voice. It’s kind of annoying.
OTHER LEVER: I’ll share your comments.
ERIC: I’ve heard a lot of comedians make fun of it, like they want to put the bear in the dryer and turn it on.
OTHER LEVER: But that’s good in a way, because at least they remember the product.
ERIC: At least they remember it. Even if they hate it.
OTHER LEVER: I’ll let them know what you’re saying. You’re saying you don’t like the commercials.
ERIC: I don’t like the bear. The bear’s just too cute.
OTHER LEVER: OK, I’ll put that down.
ERIC: The fabric softener works fine. I just don’t like the bear.
OTHER LEVER: Let me put that… (typing) “Does not like the bear in the Snuggle commercials. It’s too cute.” I put that down. I want you to know that your call’s important to us, because we share all comments with marketing. They want to know how people feel about ads and everything.
ERIC: I don’t know if a teddy bear works, because bears are already snuggly. Maybe if they tried to take something that’s not always snuggly and make it SEEM snuggly, like a moose, or something. That might be a little more different, but a bear’s just so generic. You know, a stuffed teddy bear. Of COURSE that’s snuggly. Try a moose or a badger or something.
OTHER LEVER: I’ll put that in the report.
* * *
LISTERINE: … When Listerine was first used, it wasn’t available over the counter. They used it in operating rooms to kill germs.
ERIC: Really? Well who decided you could put it in your mouth?
LISTERINE: I guess eventually they were testing the product and found it was to people’s advantage to use it as a mouth rinse to kill the germs…
ERIC: I just think they would have had to change something. I mean, Pine-Sol kills germs, but you wouldn’t want to put it in your mouth.
ERIC: Which brings me to my other question. You’ve got Listerine, and then you’ve got the minty Listerine, and neither one of them tastes very good. And I wonder if the company has tried to come up with any flavors that taste good as well as killing the germs that can cause bad breath.
LISTERINE: You don’t think the Cool Mint or the Fresh Burst taste good?
ERIC: Oh, no, no, no. Still tastes too Listerine-y. I’d use it more if there were something that tasted better. I don’t know if it’s possible, but maybe a bubblegum, or a mint ‘n’ chip, or something.
* * *
ERIC: The current commercials they have for the Doritos talk about how they’re really loud…?
ERIC: I don’t like loud food very much. It can be annoying to the people around you, like if you’re trying to eat it at the movies or something.
ERIC: So I wondered, does this bother people? Does this turn people off to the product because they don’t like loud food?
DORITOS: I have absolutely no idea.
ERIC: People haven’t called?
DORITOS: No. Normally I’ve heard from people who say they just don’t like the commercials, but until you said that, it never occurred to me that eating Doritos was noisy.
ERIC: Yeah, well, the commercials are right. The Doritos are noisy. It’s just that I prefer my food a little bit quieter.
* * *
Nabisco (specifically, the Oreo division)
ERIC: First of all, where does the name come from?
OREO: We don’t really have a specific definition. There are three theories about where the name came from. It was maybe chosen for its melod- melod– I’m sorry — melodic combination of sounds — “Oreo.”
ERIC: Melodic combination of sounds. That makes sense. (slowly) “Oooorrreeeoooo.”
OREO: Also, there’s another theory that it’s based on the French word for “gold.” Or, it’s based on a Greek word for “mountain,” because the original shape of the cookie was hill-shaped, before they flattened it out.
ERIC: How long before a bag of Oreos goes stale? Like if you have a bag or Oreos just sitting out. Because there are so many preservatives in them.
OREO: Right. They’ll last about four to six months.
ERIC: Have the Oreo people ever considered selling just the creme part in the middle, without the cookie?
OREO: We’ve had a lot of people suggest that, but the marketing people just don’t think there’s a high enough demand for it.
ERIC: What about TripleStuf?
OREO: Again, I don’t know.
ERIC: Do you eat a lot of Oreos?
OREO: Who, me? Oh, yeah. I love Oreos.
ERIC: Me too. Although when I eat them, the black stuff from the cookie collects in the corners of my mouth. Do you have that problem?
OREO: No, I just dip them in milk and just gulp ’em down.
ERIC: Oh yeah, the milk.
* * *
Procter and Gamble (specifically, Nine Lives cat food)
ERIC: How do you determine if cats like a certain kind of food? Because you know, cats can be very finicky.
NINE LIVES: They do testing on that in shelters, with animals.
ERIC: So they do tests on animals.
NINE LIVES: Well —
ERIC: You don’t ever have people eat it, do you?
NINE LIVES: No, no, no, no. I have seen people eat the dog biscuits, though. They’re made of grain.
ERIC: I wonder if they’re any good.
NINE LIVES: I don’t think they have much of a taste. I think they’re pretty bland.
ERIC: I guess they wouldn’t be bad for you. Have you ever thought of encouraging that, as a selling point? You can buy the dog biscuits for your dog and then have one for yourself? Help owners bond with their dogs.
NINE LIVES: The product would go twice as fast that way.
ERIC: Maybe add some flavor, like bubblegum or mint ‘n’ chip.
* * *
ERIC: I was curious about the Grape Nuts. How do they get the name Grape Nuts?
POST: There’s a story behind that. The story involves the actual maker of the Grape Nuts, who was —
ERIC: Freddy Post?
POST: Not Freddy Post.
ERIC: Wasn’t there a Freddy Post in history?
POST: No, sir.
(A little later in the conversation:)
ERIC: How many bowls would be OK for someone to eat in a day?
POST: Hmm. That’s all based on your consumption. If you take a look on the bottom of the box, in the nutritional information, there’s a daily value — that’s what you should be basing it on.
ERIC: I just wonder, if you ate too much, would it be bad? Because I like to have four or five bowls sometimes. Would that be bad? Could you have too much?
POST: Unfortunately we don’t have that information available. Although that’s a very good question. Myself, I eat a lot of cereal too.
ERIC: What kind do you like?
POST: I like the Banana Nut Crunch, Cranberry Crunch, the Golden Crisp.
ERIC: I like the Fruity Pebbles.
POST: There’s a wide selection that I like, but my best is the Banana Nut Crunch.
ERIC: I haven’t tried that.
POST: Oh, man, that is great.
ERIC: Do the Post people who work on the Fruity Pebbles and the sugar cereals, are they in competition with the people who work on the more legitimate cereals like Grape Nuts? Are there arguments in the cafeteria, or fights at the company picnic?
POST: Not at all. We pull together as a team.
(And a little later…)
ERIC: When I was a kid, I ate a lot of the Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles, and sometimes I’d have like five bowls of that in the morning, and then I’d be hyper until about 3 in the afternoon. And then I’d take a nap for about three hours. So I don’t think that was very healthy.
POST: Well, I wouldn’t have any information in regards to the cereal actually making that happen. You may have to consult a physician about that.
ERIC: Well, it’s so much sugar. I mean, to make that “part of a balanced breakfast,” you’d have to have like a whole loaf of toast to balance it out. And I’d just eat the cereal and go nuts the rest of the day.
POST: (as if he thinks I’m crazy) Oh, OK.
ERIC: The teachers used to call my parents and ask why I was eating so much cereal. I’d be hyper all day, and then come down about 3. I’d take a nap for a few hours, and then wake up with this awful headache and swear I’d never do it again, but then I’d wake up the next day and do it all over. It was a downward spiral.
POST: I’m sorry to hear that, sir.
ERIC: Oh, it’s OK now. I just have the Grape Nuts now.
POST: Oh, good.
I felt bad doing another "calling-people-on-the-phone" column. This, just like the psychic hotline column, was really easy to write. I just had to call the people, say some dumb stuff, and type it up. There you go, brilliant comedy, in the can. It really is a cop-out, but the kids seem to like it.
Besides, this wasn't really inspired by the psychic hotline column I had recently done. It's actually a direct successor to something I wrote for a newspaper four years earlier, in which I called Skor, Nine Lives and Grape Nuts.
Also note that this is an extremely long column. In the paper, it was 45 inches -- and that was after I cut out the Nine Lives cat food part. Nearly four feet of solid comedy, taking up half a page of valuable newspaper space.