Deception Engineering

I wonder how long it will be before MIT, Caltech, and other engineering schools add a new degree to their curricula, BSDE (Bachelor of Science in Deception Engineering), right along with their highly respected programs in mechanical, electronic, computer and chemical engineering.

Granted, the program will probably have a friendlier title, such as “Product Engineering”, or it will be a concentration within their Industrial Engineering programs. Some schools might already be offering courses in this technology, because there is certainly a demand for workers skilled in this field.

If you haven’t noticed, consumer product manufacturers are using every trick they can come up with to hide the fact that you are paying more for less. My guess is that there are entire departments at some companies that research how to avoid or minimize consumer perception of shrinking products, whether through creative marketing, deceptive packaging, or playing games with package weights or product quantities. If you walked through their corporate offices, I don’t think you’ll find a door that says “DECEPTION ENGINEERING LAB”, but you can be certain it’s there somewhere, in some form.

Here’s just a few examples I’ve noted within the last few years…

Ice cream: The standard half gallon (that’s a two quart) ice cream container has been downsized by nearly all brands to between 1.5 and 1.75 quarts. It seems that manufacturers have resorted to several new package shapes to try and camouflage the fact that you are getting less product.

Soda: The 2 liter soda bottle has shrunk to 1.5 liters in many cases. Brands like Coca-Cola have come up with interesting names for their new packaging, like “Smooth Serve”, and introduced different bottle shapes. But less is less, no matter how you slice it.

Paper products: Even though they aren’t sold by weight, have you noticed how packages of toilet paper, paper towels and tissues are getting lighter and lighter, and run out sooner and sooner? No, it’s not your imagination. Mr. Whipple must be turning over in his grave. Take Scott toilet tissue, a brand that I feel is still one of the better values out there. Their flagship product has always been 1000 sheets per roll, and it still is. But the size of those sheets has shrunk substantially in both width and length (and some would argue, in quality and strength) over the last few years. Yet they still advertise “1000 sheets per roll”. That’s sort of like saying a loaf of bread is still a full pound, but redefining a pound as being 13 ounces. It’s deceptive marketing, pure and simple. And I’m sick and tired of having to clean myself up after sneezing into tissues. Lint and bits of paper all over my shirt, because the tissues disintegrate when you sneeze into them.

Snack foods: Ever wonder why your bag of potato or corn chips, cheese doodles, etc. is two-thirds empty when you open it? I have too. An example… that 8 ounce bag of chips and other snacks have pretty much universally shrunk to 5 ounces, 4.5 ounces, 4.25 ounces, and even less. That’s about half as much for the same or higher price. At least air has zero grams of trans-fat, and zero calories per serving.

Candy: I’m a chocoholic. I love Hershey’s chocolate, but that 1 pound bag of Hershey’s chocolates has been shrinking and shrinking over the last couple of years. Most of their products I see in the supermarket are now down to between 10 and 11 ounces. And no, it’s not just Hershey’s chocolates that are shrinking, but they are my favorite.

Yogurt: The 8 ounce container was the standard for as long as I can remember. Try to find it today. Almost all brands have switched to 6 ounce containers, with some as light as 4 ounces. Most interesting to me is the lengths some brands have gone to in an attempt to make their containers look bigger, such as false bottoms, cups big enough to hold 8 ounces , but which contain only 6 ounces, tapered cups, etc.

Cheese: I’ve noticed that most brands of prepackaged, sliced cheeses (Munster, Swiss, Provolone, etc.) that used to be sold in 8 ounce packages have shrunk to 6 ounces lately.

Canned vegetables: Just try and find a 16 ounce (one pound) can of anything anymore.

The above examples only scratch the surface. It’s not limited to one category of food or other product, or to one brand. Shrinking products are everywhere. It’s an epidemic.

In searching for other websites that document shrinking or downsized products, I stumbled upon mouseprint.org. It’s a wonderful site, especially their food /groceries category. Check it out !

And forget the advice about “Plastics” given to Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin Braddock, in Mike Nichols’ 1967 film “The Graduate”. My advice, Benjamin, is “Deception Engineering”.

The impact of deception engineering on everyday life, and on our shopping habits is becoming so great that RoutingByRumor has started a Shrinking Products category on this blog, where we will spotlight some of the best examples (or maybe that’s the worst examples) of shrinking products and how manufacturers are trying to deceive consumers.

I did a few web searches for “deception engineering”, but didn’t find anything. Perhaps this will be my claim to fame… having coined that phrase. Maybe some engineering school will honor me by creating the RoutingbyRumor School of Deception Engineering.

Ya never know.

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2 Comments

Filed under Consumerism, Money, Movies, Shopping, Your Money

2 responses to “Deception Engineering

  1. Sally Moss

    Just last week I emailed both Starkist and Chicken of the Sea to complain about downsizing a can of tuna from 7 oz. to 5 oz. All my tried and true recipes call for 7 oz. Starkist replied–said the decrease is can size was made to continue to offer their products at a reasonable price, and that the reduction in the amount of tuna was actually quite small–they took out more liquid. I replied to that and said bull-shit; I can do the math! I’m so glad someone is taking up the cause of reduction in size. I would rather pay more and have the sizes remain the same, especially when it involves measurements for cooking! Keep up the good work!!!

    – Jacksonville, Illinois

  2. Melissa Arnold

    Okay. I just found your blog. And I think I just found my sanity along with it. Honestly, with the shrinking products I thought I was simply beginning to succumb to the ravages of aging and couldn’t actually remember correctly the sizes of products. I’m not yet 50, but still…

    Of course, going from 2 liters to 1.5 with soda was obvious, as was the whole ice cream downsizing. But I could have sworn yogurt came in 8 ounce pots…but my containers are all 6 ounces. And my packages of cheese slices, same thing. Mayo, green beans, hair spray — all smaller packages, right? Let’s not forget, too, that bagels are now in 4-packs instead of 6 in a bag. (That’s okay. I never was that fond of bagels.) And surely I haven’t gained so much weight that my toilet paper consumption has gone up THAT much? But I keep running out of TP faster than I used to. THANK YOU for letting me know it’s NOT me. My memory is fine. It’s manufacturers that have lost their marbles, not me.

    Unfortunately, they’re not actually using anything as nefarious as deception engineering. The college course you’re seeking is simply Marketing 101. Applied to grocery items, you call it deception engineering. Applied other ways, it is politics or religion. Or documentaries. Or talk radio. Or the evening news. Just plain ol’ marketing the message to make people believe what we want them to.

    Sad… But I’m still happy to have confirmation that I’m not senile yet. 🙂

    – Red Oak, Iowa

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