Which came first, the idiot, or the one that treats them that way?

A week or so back, I photographed the sauce bottle that you see below, and posted it on Facebook with the comment ‘I’m glad they explain what it’s great with. It’s not like you’d get a clue from the name or anything.’ After a bit of discussion on there, we concluded that maybe the reason for their explanation is that some people might think that burger sauce is sauce that is made out of burgers. But either way, whether it’s to tell us what to use it for, or to tell us what it’s not made of, they’re treating us like idiots. So I ask you – do they treat us like idiots because we are idiots, or have we become idiots because we get treated that way? Of course when I say ‘we’, I’m not talking about anyone around here, oh no, obviously none of US are idiots, no, when I say ‘we’ I’m talking about the wider we of society.

Burger Sauce

My next packaging example was actually spotted by my son in the supermarket (note how well he models the pack for me to photograph it ). At the top it says ’12 Gold & Black Balloons’. I know what you’re thinking “What on earth do they mean by ‘Gold & Black Balloons’? How will I know what these are going to look like when they’re inflated? How will I know which are the gold ones and which are the black ones?!” Well fear not, there is some helpful clarification at the bottom – there is a picture of the black balloon, with the words ‘Black when inflated’, and a picture of the gold balloon with the words ‘Gold when inflated.’ Thank goodness for that. We’d have all been lost otherwise.

Balloons

And finally, allergy warnings. I think we’ve all been amused by packets of peanuts that have the words ‘Allergy warning: contains nuts’, and similar. But how about the allergy information below, on a loaf of rye bread I bought recently, it lists 18 items that there could possibly be traces of. My first thought was “…crustaceans, fish, molluscs? Do they bake this bread down on the docks or something?!” Then it dawned on me, they’re just covering their backs by listing all the food items that potentially can cause severe allergic reactions, whether or not there is a chance they could end up in the bread. If this is the way allergy warnings are going to go, then they become utterly pointless.

Bread packaging

So I have a question for you – do you find amusement in packaging labelling or is it just me?  Oh no wait…that wasn’t my question, my question was – which came first, the idiot, or the one that treats them that way? Well, feel free to answer either, or neither, question.

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69 responses to “Which came first, the idiot, or the one that treats them that way?

  1. Haha, oh dear. That allergy one always makes me laugh, we have it on our eggs. Allergy advice: Contains Eggs. Well… duh… After working in customer services, I can safely say that you shouldn’t assume people aren’t going to be idiots. Seriously, some of the calls I’ve had to answer you wonder how people function on a day to day basis! I think you’ll like this site – notalwaysright.com/

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  2. Here in the U.S. we have tiny packets that contain cloth hand wipes. On the reverse, they are kind enough to include instructions. To wit (and I quote verbatim):

    “DIRECTIONS—tear open packet, unfold MOIST TOWELETTE and use.”

    Oh, thank you. I’ve been wondering why wiping this foil packet on my hands wasn’t produce the desired results. If I were more technically savvy I’d include a photo. I might not be able to upload a pic into a comment section but I can certainly navigate a hand wipe packet.

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    • Haha, yes, the instructions on things are great aren’t they. There was some snack product I bought once that had instructions on the side, something like ‘Open pack and eat contents’. Makes you wonder what they think some people plan to do with these products when they buy them.

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  3. Of course, the sad answer is that one of the biggest drivers of the proliferation of Statements of the Bloody Obvious is not so much that people are idiots but that they are also litigious. This is perhaps the most famous case of all – note that it dates back to as recently as 1994, but it helps explain why so many companies are ultra-cautious about assuming that not everyone can tie their own shoelaces, so to speak:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liebeck_v._McDonald%27s_Restaurants

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    • Ah yes, you’re right, that’s very true. I think of that in terms of allergy warnings, but of course it can apply to all sorts of instructions and information on packaging – “How was I supposed to know I shouldn’t drink that bleach? It didn’t say not to on the bottle” I guess we can’t blame the manufacturers for wanting to cover all bases!

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  4. My husband is fond of a saying that applies here. “Cater to the stupid and the rest will get it”. And I knew a comedian who, in his hysterical bit on the same subject, said, “Do they need to warn us to not poke ourselves repeatedly in the eye with our forks?” and he was doing the gesture.”Ow, this really hurts, maybe I shouldn’t do this”. Then again, now that I have an eight year old, I realize there’s a common sense deficit in the “other” gender. Soooo….

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  5. Insurance companies all have statements that say they’ll not cover “Acts of God” – earthquakes, tornadoes, etc. Businesses should provide labels on their products that say “Acts of Stupidity” are not covered.

    Of course the main reason is that a few “idiots” sued and won for being idiots.

    I am waiting for the day that a child sues their mother for breastfeeding them.

    There is a great deal of medical evidence that breast milk accumulates and harbors persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as heavy metals, and volatile solvents including chemicals that are very toxic to humans. And they’re not talking about trace amounts, rather relatively high quantities.

    So high that if it were to be found in cows’ milk the cow would be destroyed, and the product not allowed to cross borders.

    Is a warning label for breast soon to follow?

    “CAUTION: The FDA has determined the contents are unsafe for human consumption. Contains: Iron, cobalt, copper, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, mercury, plutonium, lead, vanadium, tungsten, cadmium, benzene, ethylbenzene, m,p-Xylene, o-Xylene, styrene, toluene, iso-octane, n-Hexane, 2-methyl- pentane, 3-methyl- pentane.

    May result in damaged or reduced mental and central nervous function, lower energy levels, and damage to blood composition, lungs, kidneys, liver, and other vital organs, physical, muscular, and neurological degenerative processes that mimic Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis, cancer.”

    “Uh, Mom, we need to talk. What’s the name of your lawyer?”

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  6. You have to assume that every time you see a seemingly stupid or redundant sign like “DO NOT URINATE ON ELECTRIC FENCE” or “DO NOT PUT HANDS INTO ALLIGATOR ENCLOSURE” that there’s a reason that somebody had to put a warning in place. Very amusing.

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  7. I love observing life and the things in it. You picked some great examples of what regulations have done to our culture and common sense. Ever since a woman in America sued (and won) McDonalds when her hot coffee spilled on her lap and burned her, the packaging industry has gone overboard to warn us about the obvious.

    But that’s only in some cases. They hide the fact that they put sugar in everything (and just call it fancy names) and they change portion sizes to reflect smaller calorie counts (but who pays attention to portion size?).

    So the food industry (and others) give us useless or inane information while hiding critical information. UGH!

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  8. This post is funny. I don’t think I’m an idiot and don’t like (resent) being treated like one. Ha-ha.
    After reading this, I went to my daughter’s cupboard (I’m babysitting) to read some labels. The only laugh I came up with was the Peanut Butter. The first ingredient is Peanuts. Below this list, in bold print: Contains Peanuts and Soy. Not quite the same as you post, but still…

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  9. This is a s good as asking which came first the egg or the chicken… but some of the things I find most amusing is the translated instruction in certain purchases I’ve made .. where the Chinese has been translated to English… talk of confusion… lol

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  10. Thanks to the lawyer, labels have become interesting. After all, before cooking the pepperoni slices, take them out of the package.

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  11. It all just drives me nuts. I saw a commercial on TV the other day where they were claiming the car had such a smooth ride and the image was of the car flying through the sky. The small print on the bottom of the screen said “Cars cannot fly.” Really? I suppose if one bought that car and drove it off a cliff plunging to disasterous results one could sue the car company for eleventy million dollars because, well, they showed the car flying. Idiots AND their attorneys are taking over the world!

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  12. Maybe idiocy is the real reason we invented lawyers? I think one explanation for that laundry list of possible allergens may be when a variety of different food products are produced in the same facility. The producers may be covering their behinds (again from a legal standpoint) in case bits of something somehow end up in another item.

    Alas, common sense does seem to be a disappearing trait, which does not bode well for our evolutionary future!

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    • I just find it hard to imagine a food production facility that would have all those things in it! Surely seafood isn’t processed in the same facility as bread is baked. I think they are covering their behinds with a bigger cloth than is needed! I guess we won’t be around to see our evolutionary future…

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  13. My friend (who bakes for a living) got an email the other day from someone who’d eaten at a cafe she supplies. It started ‘I bit into a slice of your carrot cake and was surprised to find it contained real carrots…..’ She is clearly the target for the burger sauce packaging.

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    • That is funny! Even if she didn’t know beforehand that carrot cake contained real carrots, you’d think once she found them she’d realise her mistake and keep quiet about it! A bit like that letter of complaint that a travel company received from someone complaining that there were fish in the sea on their holiday, and nobody had warned them that there would be fish in the sea.

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  14. The burger sauce .. er ketchup manufacturers have a long tradition of stupidity. For years and years Del Monte spelled ketchup CAPSUP. Last year I read Congressman’s Henry Waxman’s book about the legislative process. Waxman’s great accomplishment – a titanic struggle against the lobbies, which he as a mere congressman recognizes as having more power than he does – has been to enact legislation requiring labeling. Over-information undermines the intention of the law. And stupidity, well it’s undermining us all. For instance, comments that go on too long, and on on and……

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  15. I was shopping once and saw an attractive jacket. The label said, “Made by the good people of Guatemala.” I looked at my companion and said, “Okay….so what happens with the bad people there?”

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  16. You’re not the only one, I think they’re funny too. I especially like when you buy a packet of almonds and the label says “Warning: Contains nuts.”

    Having said that, the gold & black balloon package is insanely funny. I mean, what made them think they needed to spell that out for people?? Also, they’re black or gold when deflated too, not just when they’re inflated. So I’m not sure if that’s really all that helpful anyway!

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    • I know right! I could understand it if the balloons looked like completely different colours when they were deflated, but they are very clearly black and gold anyway! I’d love to know the logic behind that one.

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  17. I heart this post soooo much. Oh man. Our society has become so litigious that everybody has to put a “don’t sue us” warning on everything. Sometimes I wonder how charity fundraisers even get bold enough to sell their goods. The Vagina Monologues likes to sell vagina lollipops every year at our Student Union building, and I don’t even think they come with a stupid warning on them. They could get sued! Everybody can get sued! SUUUUUUED!

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  18. Vanessa, You give some great examples. The one similar to the eggs comment above is a jar of cashew nuts that say: May Contain Nuts.

    As a writer who has written PR copy and production copy and commercial copy, etc., for some very smart people to review, it is always eye-opening to see how literal some people are. Even some very smart people. But especially some not-so-smart people. And there are so many of both in this crazy world. I am so not literal that I tend to fill in all kinds of blanks… and I have found that some people are completely incapable of seeing where the blanks are, much less filling them in. Shampoo. Rinse. Repeat. That’s our world, Vanessa. ; )

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  19. When I started reading, I was thinking about the peanut butter one that said it may contain nuts…and then you mentioned it. Ha ha! Yes, I am always amazed by the idiotic warnings and the idiotic nature of society that forces companies to do this to keep safe from lawsuits. I’d blame lawyers and frivolous lawsuits.

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  20. America is a very litigious place so we are overwhelmed with absurd warning labels.

    My favorite is probably the “Warning! Contents may be hot!” on the styrofoam coffee cup. That label exists because an old lady once took McDonalds to court after she spilled their hot coffee in her lap.

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  21. Potential side effects listed in drug commercials include EVERY medical issue that occured during the testing of the drug, regardless of whether or not it was related to the use of the drug. So, If someone dropped dead from a heart attack while they were part of a foot powder test, sudden death is listed as a side effect.

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  22. People are idiots, and sellers always have to take that into account. As far as the allergy advice, that’s a pretty comprehensive list, but they can’t foil me. I’ve decided to be allergic to air – just TRY to take that off the list. I’m gonna sue everybody.

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  23. I have personally always enjoyed the ‘do not lick lid’ warning I have seen on tinned spaghetti.

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  24. Vanessa, Vanessa, Vanessa – all I can do it sit here and smile, but that doesn’t make for a very effective comment, so I am trying to make words out of my feelings, which are: such joy at being back in your hilarious blog world. Where have I been? How could I have endured not reading you for 2 whole months? Now that I am back, I don’t know the answer to the second. As for the first, I have been in a necessary state of internet vacation. I am renewed and refreshed, ready to show my face again and check up on my favourite bloggers. As for being an idiot, I know that I am one, and any excuse to blame someone else I’ll take it: I was a genius before packaging became overly obvious. xxx

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    • Hello lovely lady, good to have you back! I’ve missed you at Sugarness too, must be time for another Gab recipe soon – your booby cakes continue to receive the highest number of hits on there! I’m glad you are renewed and refreshed. Hope you stick around 😉

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  25. I do like it when a packet of nuts says it may contain nuts. What else might it contain?!?

    I think the idiot came first and they sued someone for not pointing out the blindingly obvious and so now everyone has gone mad with pointing out the blindingly obvious.

    They do make me laugh though when I think that some people will still need to read it twice, just to make sure they understand. Makes me feel superior even if only for a brief moment 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  26. That’s like the product, “I Can’t Believe it’s not Butter”: “We never said it was butter. We just said we couldn’t believe it wasn’t!” Like, you could call a chair the same thing. (That’s not my observation, but comedian Richard Jeni‘s. Though, I always remember it.)

    Other comments mention the litigiousness of our society. Sadly, I think that’s the root of many of these idiot examples. Even sadder, creatives are constantly asked to play to that lowest common denominator. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read advice from editors and other writers who say, “This is too verbose. Your audience won’t get it.” Or, “Your audience won’t take the time to read it.” It’s depressing.

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    • Another comedian I heard was talking about I Can’t Believe It’s not Butter too, ages ago, and saying that it might inspire a whole line of other products like “Surely these are gravy granules aren’t they?” and “If this isn’t custard powder then I’m a monkey’s uncle.” (or something like that!).

      Yes, it’s a shame that everyone isn’t as clever as us isn’t it! 😉

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    • Sounds like you’re a creative, like me. But is this sick or what–I don’t only design packaging, I actually read every word on a cereal box. So yes, those red-pencil editors are all wrong when they say it won’t be read. However, I don’t need to be told my bottle of cleaning agent is not for human consumption.

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  27. I can’t recall which manufacturer it was, that had made a can of baked beans (in tomato sauce) I saw once. But anyway, on the back of the can was a small picture of the beans, and nothing else, just tipped out onto a plate. And under that photo were the immortal words: – “Serving Suggestion”

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  28. Pingback: Packaging and Meaningless Multipliers | Vanessa-Jane Chapman

  29. I’m a packaging designer, and still I am very amused–sometimes dumbfounded–by the text and even the pictures. One of my favorites has always been “enlarged to show detail” — when indeed it’s been enlarge about 40 times!
    Here’s my contribution to the world of packaging: the “fun & fabulous ampersand” — http://amperart.com

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  30. Pingback: What Constitutes a Hand Cream Emergency? | Vanessa-Jane Chapman

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