January 19, 2005

Open Source Shampoo

After reading Lileks screed against Bath and Body Works, a solution seems very simple to me. If you're not going to use the formula anymore, either sell it to someone who can use it because they have a lower cost structure (possibly getting paid royalties in a license deal) or give it away for free.

Lileks' apopleptic goings on provide a highly entertaining whack to Bath and Body Works brand image which is likely to cut across their market demographics in odd ways. This is, after all, a man who makes a living out of talking about the strangest juxtaposition of things, from foods of the past to house decor that never should have been. Anyway, here's the screed (but visit his site, there's an awful lot of good things there):

An Open Letter to Bath and Body Works:

For a year I have enjoyed your “Aromatherapy” line of soaps and shampoos. It has nothing to do with the purported therapeutic benefits of the various scents, and we both know that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that slathering myself with these emollients will alter my emotional state in any way. If I find myself tense, coating myself in a thick paste of Orange Ginger moisturizer has no noticeable effect on my life, other than to make me feel unduly damp, and emit squishing sounds when I sit. But the aromas are nonetheless pleasing. If you have set foot in your stores recently, you will notice the accentuated preponderance of floral and spicy scents, as though someone had swabbed the walls with an expensive prostitute. I do not wish to smell like gardenias, which heretofore had led me to regard your line with disinterest But neither do I enjoy smelling like Oirish Spring or Dial or any other bar that starts its life with confident firmness but quickly devolves into a streaked lozenge covered with antibacterial mush; hence, my tentative foray into your shop last year. I soon came to appreciate the Aromatherapy line for its unique scents, which – if I may be so forward – were masculine in a way few other soaps dare provide.

It is frankly difficult not to smell like something, given the plethora of fragrances lurking in every product. I have sought, and found, a shaving gel that leaves no fragrance. I have sought, and found, a soothing balm for the freshly razored face that leaves a ghost of a scent that quickly demurs to whatever cologne you chose to apply. (“Pure,” Eddie Bauer, one drop on the carotid artery.) Antipersperants are likely to come in “sport” scents, which announce themselves like an unholy offspring of Brut and used sweat socks, shouting loudly as they come a’borning. To this messy farrago the common man adds the drab tang of bar soap and the soft, confused hue of botanical-infused shampoo; his clothes have the faint trace of Spring Fresh detergent, tumbled in Crisp Linen drier sheets.

The dog barely knows you.

I was delivered from this by Eucalyptus Spearmint. The soap and the shampoo worked hand in hand; they welcomed the lotion like a long-lost brother. The general scent was manly in fashion that recalled the barbershops of the Gilded Age; as one laved one’s chest one could conjure up images of bowler hats on the coat rack, well-thumbed Police Gazettes, shoe polish and cigars. A time of heavy coins and horse manure, warmish beer, a scandalous flash of ankle. When I finished my morning ablutions I had the momentary conceit that I smelled like Stanford White, and this mood carried me on its shoulders throughout the day

Last year you had a sale. I stocked up. I bought 15 bottles of liquid soap and placed them in the cabinet. The shampoo, being more dear, was purchased in a smaller quantity. I bought more as I ran out, leaving my reserve stock intact.

Last week you had another sale. The shampoos for the Aromatherapy line were discounted by 75%. I knew instantly what this meant: you had discontinued the product. The staff was cagy, but confirmed my suspicion with slight, knowing expressions and small tight smiles of sympathy.

I could understand if you had abandoned the line completely; such are the vicissitudes of retail. But to keep the line going while eliminating a crucial element of the aroma profile is an act of colossal arrogance and cruelty, knowing as you do that no other shampoo in the store meshes with such ease and familiar grace into the Eucalyptus Spearmint line. It goes without saying that the era of having a shower with identically sized and labeled bottles is over, and shall not come again. It goes without saying that you care little for this, or your hand would have stayed from signing the order to kill the product. It might well have flown to your mouth or throat, momentarily stunned at what you had almost set in motion.

I know I cannot influence your decision. But know this: I will never buy anything else at your store, because all you offer is flowery fluids I can buy cheaply at Target. I have a year’s supply of liquid soap, which I will use as ever. I will refill the empty shampoo bottles with Suave. Do you understand? Years of product testing, package design, ad campaigns, the whole lot: it comes down to Suave poured in your containers, not in the hopes you will not be unduly pained, but in the fervent desire that you will be pained unutterably, and go to your graves nursing the wound.

Damn ye, sirs. Damn ye.

Then again, he could always just get a custom shampoo made.

Posted by TMLutas at January 19, 2005 03:17 PM