June 10th, 2008

The first rule of marketing: if I like a product, they discontinue it

Some products stay the same for what seems like an eternity.

Pond’s Cold Cream, for example. Or Ivory, both Snow and soap. And then of course there’s Jello—but any regular reader of this blog knows about that. These things are classics, even though I don’t use them.

Remember when Coke changed its formula? Pandemonium. And no, I’m not talking about the removal of cocaine from the mix, which occurred in 1903; I’m talking about the 1985 change to New Coke that resulted in a backlash and the issuance of Coca-Cola Classic to try to still the brouhaha.

It’s not nice to mess with a great product, but that doesn’t stop them from doing it. Sometimes it’s sneaky—for example, I’m convinced that although the branding has stayed the same, almost all the candy and ice cream of my youth tasted different (and better) because corn syrup was not yet in the ascendance and sugar was the main sweetener.

I’ve found that there is some sort of rule of products: if I like one and use it, I’d better buy a gross, because it’s about to be discontinued. That goes most particularly for all makeup and skin care products, bras, and athletic shoes.

I’m currently engaged in a hunt for my favorite skin cream. This has led me to ebay, where there are actually bidding wars for the last remaining tiny vials of this stuff.

And whatever happened to those cookies of my youth, the ones my mother used to feed us because they were thought to be vaguely healthful, the raisins smashed into a layer of flattened crispy-but-plain sweetened cracker? That’s not a great description, I know, and it’s not exactly Proust’s madeleine. But they were pretty good, and nostalgia dictates that I find a supply and at least taste them again.

But I remember neither the name of the product nor the brand, although I have a vague memory of Nabisco being involved. Someone out there—can you help?

[NOTE: This is a description of a search for the very same cookie. The answer given, although promising, is most definitely not the cookie in question. The description of the cookie is much better than mine, however. I had forgotten the all-important perforations.]

[ADDENDUM: Update here.]

36 Responses to “The first rule of marketing: if I like a product, they discontinue it”

  1. Thomas Says:

    “I’m talking about the 1985 change to New Coke that resulted in a backlash and the issuance of Coca-Cola Classic to try to still the brouhaha.”

    I’ve read that may have all been a marketing trick… planned from start to play out the way it did.

    A good portion of those ‘outraged’ about the change were older people who were now drinking… pepsi… but drank coke when younger.

    Once Coke ‘gave into the demands’ and switched back… many pepsi drinkers went back to coke.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    So Thomas, you’re a conspiracy theorist?

  3. Thomas Says:

    What do those marketing people get paid to do all day? Call it what you will. 🙂

    Anyway, The Hidden Persuaders was a favorite book. Check it out sometime. Not really conspiratorial, just explains how marketing works.

  4. bird dog Says:

    They still have those cookies at the supermaket. I forget what they are called. They come in long strips.

  5. kcom Says:

    “This has led me to ebay, where there are actually bidding wars for the last remaining tiny vials of this stuff.”

    Can you say ?

    – This is my first shot at a link here. Without preview, I can only hope it comes out right.

  6. kcom Says:

    Try again –

    Can you say spongeworthy?

  7. Thomas Says:

    neo-neocon Says:

    “So Thomas, you’re a conspiracy theorist?”

    Anyway, the whole new coke brouhaha was all free advertising.

  8. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    Try the vacuum cleaner whose hepafilters go the way of Fight 19, one year after purchase date.

  9. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    Replacement filters, that is.

  10. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    Our episode of The Twilight Zone concludes as Harry McHitlerburtonstein the Conservative Extremist is being dragged from the K-Mart by a couple of store employees. Harry is thrashing wildly, screaming: “But you did have them! You did! They came in a blue box! I’m not insane!!”

  11. Thomas Says:

    ahh, no replacement parts. 😉

  12. expat Says:

    I don’t know about the cookies, but I hate all the product changes. It can take 3 or 4 tries to find a substitute for an old favorite. It costs a bundle and I always feel a little guilty for throwing away something I don’t like after one use. I hate fruity cosmetics. Idon’t want to smell like grapefruit.

    I like to try really new things, different cuisines etc., but senseless changes that appeal only to teenies make me angry.

  13. Truth Says:

    It’s the same as in other places in the world, whether is for better or worse this related to the product manufacturers, but the main goal is to sale their products that cost them less in production process and they got better profit.

    The only problems I have to start gain to search for similar product that match the quality that used before if the replacement was not good enough to satisfy my desire.

    In the end it’s all of booming consumer demands and we are not all as same.

  14. carol Says:

    I like the Lucerne yogurt that Safeway sells. They could never keep enough spiced apple fruit-at-the-bottom in stock because it seemed that everyone liked it. There was also a lot of pineapple yogurt back then in the 90s that piled up. I never bought any.

    I swear someone at Lucerne was hard of hearing and thought they heard “spiced apple” wasn’t moving when it was really “pineapple.” So they discontinued both fruit at the bottom and premixed spiced apple. That’s my theory anyway.

  15. Sdferr Says:

    Hershey used to make an M&M’s knockoff called Hersheyette’s that I much preferred to M&M’s, I know not why. Haven’t seen ’em in over 20 yrs. Damn.

  16. Artfldgr Says:

    the sponge is back out..
    while its still on the shelves, if you noticed the double packs are gone.

    it has a success rate higher than iud, and on par with snip snip… ligations…

    however, socialism kills it….

    planned parenthood gives out rubbers for free…

    this changes the economics of the area of business…

    sooooo the best form of birth control, which would mean that planned parenthood wouldnt get 500 for an abortion, is artificially high priced since other forms are free…

    the worst form of birth control is free… thats kind of like stacking the cards against the teens… no?

    however, if they gave the sponge away, its costs would drop too due to economy of scale.

    its much like the interview in spiegal with, i forget, some big african economist.

    he says.. .for gods sake stop helping…

    he explains that the charity that the west sends undercuts any business that can be started at home.. so rather than remake the textile industry (which they had), they take the donated shirts and try to sell them on ebay back to the germans.

    the point being that our money is what keeps them down!!!!!!!

    well distorting the economics of something changes the outcomes…

    the economics of sugar was been distorted by central planning, so the more unhealthy, but farmer freindly corn syrup is king.

    they knew what they were doing.. as the left makes more out of crisis and misery and pain than it can on merit… so changing the sugar source would lead to diabetes, higher health care, fatter people, etc.. leaving long chain sugars, wouldnt do this…

    if you track each key left thing, you will find that its basis is to cause misery..

    meanwhile.. you can see that the arguments used to be correct except those on the right got tired of losing to lies and the left out bribing us with our own money.

    one of the reasons that the food and products have changed is due to business fracturing… the businesse no longer have hteir own factoris, their own places… what they do is use part of a factory that specializes in making lots of products.

    paul newmans stuff is made this way… but so is a lot of others.

    so what happens is that the products get changed to fit the economy of scale of these meta manufacturers…

    so before, when they made the product themselves, they could order what they wanted… but if they use this third party system, they tend to replace parts with the parts that work accross products.

    another thing that changes stuff is tools.. the company that makes torx is wiling to give another company the screws for free so they can make money selling tools to people.

    then there are the people who program obsolescence in…

    and lastly… and the biggest reason… marketers are now leftists, and as such, they cant see merit.

    to them progress is change…even if that change makes a worse product!!!! without a absolute concept of good or bad and a concept of conserving good and letting go bad… all you have is random changes, and constant changes, with lots of lies on how that change will work.

    meanwhile, they cant get the loyalty and other things that make heinz and others successful for more than 100 years..

  17. Artfldgr Says:

    forgot to mention… since the state likes to take profits from successful things… they force companies to change those products to meet federal and state mandates.

    a made up example…

    you love a pair of shoes… but then peta gets the state to add a surcharge on animal products… instantly your leather is reduced as the company is caught between what it can make that sells a lot, and what it can make that is under the regulation bar that it can still sell and get a product out.

    taxes cheapen products… and so does a larger government (each state employee has to drain its salary from business sicnew the state cant produce only consume).

    and i touched on marketing.. i forgot to mention tha marketing screws up real bad as most pretend to be scientific, but are so much less rigorous its sad.

    take the new equipment that tracks your eyes as you look over products… marketers make assumptions about that… and one assumption they make is that everyone lookkng is a potential buyer…

    and here is where it happens…

    there is a large portion of the population that is bored and doesnt work, is female, and wanders aroudn malls and other places. they will answer questionars for a key fob, and so on.

    the marketers need people to answer these things…

    and so the more competent women went to work, the more what kind remained wandering the malls answering product questions? how many just wander and look over things? after all, if your not buying, you might focus on weird, odd, or something that is a problem…

    all that skews the outputs because they create preferred conclusions then paing circles aroudn them.

    meanwhile i have yet to see a company control their marketers… they forget that marketers are paid to play with heads, and so the biggest heads they play with are the bosses in a company…

    if you cant get the people to do what you want, you can get hte boss to…and if the boss decides, you can unload blame..

    the stories i could tell of how marketing would be incredibly stupid and incapable of understanding basic math, and other things… and yet posture as if they were researchers.

    i remember a dual i had when they said that people will not key in more than 9 numbers..

    and i said thats the study from the phone company early in the last century… all that has changed… but no… i even showed them the study they were refering to.

    meanwhile we will dial 10 numbers to call in, put a bunch of numbers to move around, put 16 digit credit card number in, and a 4-8 number pin, followed by some more menu selections.

    the problem was tha marketing wanted me to number over 1 billion separate mailings entries. in 9 numbers or less…

    i couldnt do it and got fired because marketing had the ear of the boss and said i was just being difficult and didnt want to use my math skills to help them.

    that should let you know where your products go..

  18. Dr Bob Says:

    Perhaps the best appeal ever for a discontinued product was written by Lileks:

    An Open Letter to Bath and Body Works

    Don’t read it with food or drink in your mouth, lest you make an embarrassing mess…

  19. cSimon Says:

    Raisin cookies! We were raised on those! Never did learn to like Fig Newtons, but those Raisin Cookies! I really miss them and every once in awhile I still get a craving and look (pointlessly) on the grocery store shelves. I so clearly remember the long flat rectangles stacked 4 or 6 to a pack and the zig-zag corrugation between sections of the rectangle so you could break off a square. I think those were considered to be the “health food” sweets of yesteryear because they weren’t pure useless sugar, and it was much easier to get another one from Mom, than the Oreos or chocolate chips. And then, of course, there were the tiny little boxes of Sunmaid raisins that we were given for snacks as our Moms tried to convince us that they were just like candy — “Nature’s candy!”

    Oh, nostalgia!

    How about being daubed all over with yucky Shuttle lotion for mosquito bites or sunburn? Or scraped knees being treated with mercurochrome (sp.) that was bright pinkish-red and stung like the Dickens. (Not on me! I would scream and cry and rather die of infection than have to suffer through that torture! So I had to undergo the Bactine spray — which stung pretty good, too! Thank goodness for Neosporin today, which also has topical painkiller in it!

    Funny how we get “plugged into” brands that our parents chose and that we were raised with. To this day I’ll hunt for Crest over Colgate just because that’s what my Mom gave us. And I’ll only use the same kind of margarine unless I’m making something that calls for REAL butter, and somehow I feel like the sky will fall in if I dare substitute. And good old Band-Aids. That company virtually had a monopoly when I was growing up. Today there are numerous other choices but I just can’t believe the Curads or the drugstore chains’ private labels (which are probably manufactured by Curad or Band-Aid companies under a deal) are the same.

    Hard to break those habits!

  20. SteveH Says:

    Maybe Congress has gotten to Big Cookie. Obscene profits off the backs of kids piggy banks may be the culprit.

  21. Daniel Stark Says:

    I still remember liking OK in the mid 90’s, marketed towards “Generation X” youth. Maybe I was just a victim of horrible advertising (they stop making it), but it tasted damn good.

  22. Daniel Stark Says:

    OK was a kind of pop by the way.

  23. cSimon Says:

    Daniel Stark says:

    “OK was a kind of pop by the way.”

    Thanks. I was wondering……..

  24. DW Says:

    Sdferr Said:

    “Hershey used to make an M&M’s knockoff called Hersheyette’s that I much preferred to M&M’s, I know not why. Haven’t seen ‘em in over 20 yrs. Damn.”

    Yep. I used to buy them out of the glass ball-shaped vending machine in the school hallway and sneak them into English class in my shirt pocket. Hershey’s chocolate just seemed to taste better, or maybe it was just the added satisfaction of getting away with something.

  25. Steve Says:

    Raisin biscuit bars:

    http://www.vermontcountrystore.com/shopping/product/detailmain.jsp?itemID=31689&itemType=PRODUCT&RS=1&keyword=raisin

  26. neo-neocon Says:

    Steve: I do believe you’re onto something. Those look very close indeed. I’m getting very hopeful about this.

  27. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    um, you see…you get this vacuum… that uses its own type of hepafilter that it cant run without…right? Then a year later: POOF! no more filters.

    Anywhere.

  28. cSimon Says:

    By the way, cookies I remember were by Nabisco, just as neo remembered.. There was a Sunshine knockoff (actually don’t know who came out with product first) — Sunshine Golden Golden Raisin Biscuits. See:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20011220184105/www.keebler.com/sunshine/prods_nutrition/golden_fruit/golden_fruit_fam.htm

    These look thicker and fruitier than those I remember. As neo described, Nabisco’s were really smashed pretty flat.
    Anyway, Sunshine was acquired by Keebler, which is owned by Kellogg and someone somewhere along the way made the decision to discontinue the cookies. (Probably because Nabisco had done the same with theirs.)

    (Amazing how much discussion there is on Web re: discontinued cookies; Hydrox fans (remember, like Oreos) really go at it….)

  29. Janet Says:

    How about this:
    http://www.vermontcountrystore.com/shopping/product/detailmain.jsp?itemID=35379&itemType=PRODUCT&RS=1&keyword=raisin+biscuits

    They also take customer requests and try to find the product, if possible.

    My best friend and I had a favorite dessert when we were growing up – Whip and Chill. It disappeared years ago but The Vermont Country Store started to offer it a few years ago and we both enjoyed a blast from the past.

  30. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    There’s a discussion here:
    http://tinyurl.com/6lyp3s
    of what might be the same cookie you are remembering, complete with a link to the Vermont Country Store version. I had forgotten them entirely until reading this, but now you have reminded me not only of the cookies but of the person who used to keep them in her kitchen –the long-gone, gentle, generous, sad and lovely mother of a friend. I haven’t missed the cookies, but I do miss the cookie-keeper.

  31. mezzrow Says:

    It even happens to Vermont Country Store, though. I really miss their cotton batiste boxer shorts – they’re gone from VCS, apparently never to be found again. It’s a good thing we anticipated this happening (it’s how my wife is wired) and bought a ridiculous number of them when we still could. Nothing better suited to deal with the Florida heat has ever appeared in the way of male undergarments.

    In our household, your plight is known as “Lois syndrome” after my mother-in-law. Every brand she used and loved eventually went away.

  32. N. O'Brain Says:

    Spatini.

    A dry mix used to make spaghetti sauce, but was an important addition to several traditional family recipes.

    Gone.

  33. Sergey Says:

    My Soviet era experience supports Neo’s thesis. There was no such thing in Soviet Russia as marketing, and products stay as they were introduced for decades. For technical items it meant stagnation, but for candies and other sweeties, sausages and drinks this was great: they never deteriorate. Some receipts survived for more than century, with all their ancient (and superb) technology. Recently my friend from Brownshweig visited Moscow and found in meat store so-called Brownshweig summer sausage. He bought and tested it and found it superb; he never tasted so good summer sausage in his home town. So he left Moscow with a good stock of it. They stopped produce this product in Germany a century ago, but in Moscow it still is done exactly as they did in under Catharine The Great.

  34. Wednesday Links | The Doctor Is In Says:

    […] bemoans the discontinuation of a favorite product: which brought to mind perhaps the best appeal ever for a discontinued product, written by Lileks: […]

  35. steve Says:

    SHUTTLE LOTION!!!!! LOL I grew on that stuff the target “bulls eye” logo and that Strong medicine smell….. I have been using it since the 50’s down in Miami Beach
    It was so bad as a kid but it did work wonders I wonder if it is still around…. I am going to google it see if I can find it……………..

  36. steve Says:

    wow found it they have a web site http://www.shuttlelotion.com
    packaging almost looks the same as when i was a kid

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