March 24,  2004 - Rinse, Lather, Repeat

Back in the good old days, in the days of the Greatest Generation, people used to read directions on new products.  They would start at page 1 and read to the end before they even took the product out of the box.  And whether it was a television, radio, toaster, blender, or clock radio, they would save the directions for future reference. Today, the world is a little different.  Companies design products to be used without directions. And, if the consumer cannot figure out how to use something right out of the box, they will return it or call the hot line, rarely even giving the directions a glance.

But companies continue to provide directions, often in a multitude of languages. And whether it is just by habit, or merely to fill up space, the makers of shampoo continue the practice as well.  Common sense tells us that there should be few people in this country who do not know how to shampoo their hair. And for those who don’t, written directions will definitely not help.

Yesterday, the dedicated staff of edhat.com got into a lather over shampoo directions. We went to the Longs on upper State Street and carefully read the verbiage on the backs of the bottles. While it did not improve our showering technique, it did provide interesting bathroom reading.  It also was research for the book we are writing “Shampooing for Dummies” and the sequel “The Idiots Guide to Conditioning”.
The first big decision people face with when they begin a ritualistic hair washing is whether or not to wet their hair.  41% of the bottles we read explicitly told the consumer to ‘wet hair’.  The other 59% instructed people to apply the shampoo to hair that is already wet.  Once the product has been applied as instructed, the next step is to massage the shampoo into the scalp. Some instructions just say ‘lather’. And once the lather has been fully achieved, the grand finale rinse finishes the process in a watery climax of suds.

But, are you done? It is really up to you.  If desired, you can ‘Repeat’ the whole process again; potentially entering into an infinite loop of cleansing that could crash your water heater.

The winner of the award for stupidest directions goes to Pantene:

“Dispense into palm and rub hands together.  Apply shampoo to wet hair, massaging scalp with fingertips in a rotating motion.  Work lather through to ends.  Rinse thoroughly and repeat if desired.”

… then you do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around.  That’s what it’s all about!

We checked 22 shampoo bottles in all.  Every bottle used the words ‘Hair’ and ‘Rinse’ in its directions.  All but 2 used the word ‘Wet’.  Only 3 used the word ‘Water’. The average number of words used in directions was 12.27.  EdSailor guessed ‘Hair’ and 12 for the contest, while Edducated guessed Rinse and 12.  A random drawing selected Edducated as the winner of the prize - a choice between coffee card, movie tickets, or a bottle of shampoo. There once was a movie called Shampoo. If they can make a Scooby Doo 2, then maybe they will make a Shampoo 2, too.

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