Product subcategory differentiation and whether it really matters: the case of the roll-less TP

 I’m going to talk about toilet paper. Yep. I know that my more faithful readers have been waiting for this. I’ve written about dog waste, expired cheese, search engine poetry, softball team names, feng shui underpants. These aren’t my greatest hits, just a random collection of topics that I found by playing blog archive roulette, after which I should have chosen one to shoot. I can always find a blog post that I want to take out to the shed and beat the bejeezus out of. Despite my history of questionable topics (or synergistically), I present to you the tubeless toilet paper roll.

(photo courtesy of usatoday)

When I hear about this (courtesy of colleague Janell who I am sure would prefer to remain nameless but you know, that’s no fun), I was picturing something really crazy; a square roll, something that magically sticks to the wall sans holder through static. I don’t know, I wanted something from Star Trek. They had to use something on Star Trek.

Turns out, it’s still your regular TP roll but without the paper tube. Kind of just what it said it is (coverage here). I feel uniquely qualified to comment on this as an armchair marketer and recycling weenie (and no other reason, folks, that is it). And in doing so, I must put on my “average consumer” hat. I don’t like this hat because it squishes my hair and obscures my sense of superiority, but we will try to throw in some shiny, holy vocab to make up for it.

OK, so I am the average consumer. Let’s not think about being in the actual potty. I’d really rather not go there here. Or use here to go there. Let’s not talk about it. My assumption is that the actual usage scenario is relatively the same. When I think about product differentiation, and where that really counts (and frankly, where it always really counts most) is that moment when you are standing in the paper goods aisle and you are looking at the ridiculous array of rolls. Multi-ply, 32 rolls, cute little bear or baby on the label, scratchy greeny green TP. Girl (or boy, as the case may be), you gotta make a decision. And if you choose incorrectly, you will pay. And by that I mean that your friends judge you by the quality of your TP; what were you thinking I meant? Oh, dude, that thing about your friends judging you by your TP, that is a whole “nother” blog post. Because you know EXACTLY what I am talking about. You know you do it. Come on, I am wearing this silly average consumer (beer label on the front, mesh in the back…yeehaw!) hat. So the least you can do is admit that TP counts. Oh honey, I see that crinkly wrapper from that single roll you bought. You. got. problems.

OK, the recycling weenie part. And I think I may have mentioned this before: I am that person that washes out the recyclables. Washington state is notably green, partly due to being blue (which makes us a nice shade of turquoise…hey, my birthstone!). But I was like this before I got here, we just happen to have better resources for recycling here than most any state: we recycle without sorting, we do curbside composting (oh yes, my dears, we do). I can produce only a plastic grocery bag of trash every one to two weeks. Beat that. I definitely try to buy stuff with minimal packaging. And I do go for the scratchy greener-than-thou paper towels (because seriously…who cares?). OK, so we have established that I give a rip about that whole reduce, reuse, recycle business in a major way (well relative to my brethren as represented in this awesome chapeaus I got going on).

And I think the world is divided into two kinds of people (isn’t it always…doesn’t even matter what you are talking about): recyclers and people who hate children and puppies (oh calm down, I am kidding…kind of). Did I mention that my sense of superiority is feeling a little confined under this here cap? I think that the folks that make these rolls are trying to appeal to two groups of people (see what I said? Two!). And one is the recycling weenie like myself. And while it did catch my attention, toilet paper rolls have never really gotten my attention as things that are a real environmental challenge. Diapers, plastic bags, tires; those are the ones I think of. Toilet paper rolls? Not so much. I am pretty sure that if you put a toilet paper roll in a glass of water, you would have a mushy mess in no time. I believe they pass the test for either recyclability or biodegradability. And frankly, it doesn’t matter if they do, because I believe they do (I’m an “average consumer”…remember). So pffft…don’t care much about the replacement of the brown roll which I am sure, around the US, are turning into nifty art projects for first graders. See what is happening folks? Millions of first graders will go without toilet paper rolls. Do you really want to be responsible for that?

The second group of people that I believe that the TP product managers are thinking about? Novelty junkies. You buy it once because it looks cool. Or because you are having company and after you stash those crinkly wrapped single rolls you bought (seriously, do you want to stay single forever?), you think people are going to appreciate the awesomeness of your nifty new rolls, not just because they look different but because you found out about them first. Finger on the pulse of hot new bathroom products, blah-blah etc. After this, you realize that the experience is not all that different from the regular TP experience (were you expecting some kind of WC miracle?). And that brand with the cute puppies on the label, which may impress the ladies that are visiting your loo, is on sale. So, you know.

So here’s the thing: the product experience would really need to be outstanding. And I have to get a little chuckle about that idea. I’m absolutely on the edge of my seat (I’m here all night. Try the veal.) waiting for the marketing campaign. How about product reviews? Without some excellence in those areas, I’m predicting a bump in sales from the novelty crowd and then flattening of sales numbers (and not the flat tail kind of flattening but waning interest flattening).

I am sure that I am going to get some of those “too long, did not read” jokers (to whom I say: feel free to bounce, skip, unsubscribe). Yeah. the world is full of two kinds of people: anonymous cowards and people who love puppies (again…the veal. And don’t forget to tip your waitress!)

And now, after I have made myself virtually unemployable, I feel like I have to invigorate my sense of superiority by asking you to consider my outstanding use of semicolons (LOLzing at myself).


Comments (2)

  1. Kevin Eshbach says:

    The first thing that crossed my mind after seeing that picture was Mischief NIght is coming up in two days and this product is going to be able to potentially capitalize on that hype though I know that this was not the intention.

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Ah, yes! No tube = less evidence!