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17 August 2006
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Hershey's Sticks box

Perfection

Every once in a while a stupid marketing slogan catches my eye.  I am assaulted with slogans just as you are.  They're on packages, magazines, billboards, and almost certainly on the teevee, although I manage to avoid most of those.  And, just as you do, I ignore almost all of them.  The last one at which I took umbrage was the execrable "You don't have a picture without a print," Hewlett-Packard's attempt to convince candidate customers that printers continue to serve a purpose.  I was pleased to see that they vanished it quickly, probably because it was too stupid even for their marketers, or perhaps because David Packard* was sufficiently exercised to remonstrate with them despite that fact that he's technically life-free at this time.

Closeup of Hershey's Sticks, wrapped and unwrapped

I arrived home one day recently to discover three different packages of Hershey's brand chocolate somethings on the counter.  There were some crunchy items, there were some chocolate wafers whose purpose, so far as I could divine, were intended to help one visualize non-Euclidian geometry, and there were Hershey's Sticks, the subject of this blogitem.  I should note that the appearance and therefore my discovery of these packages was a consequence of someone other than myself having "shopped" for them, and this is as good a place as any to proclaim my eternal gratitude to that person (she knows who she is).  My immediate reaction to these items was to sample them.  My second reaction was to note:  "Hmmm.  Tastes very much like Hershey's chocolate, but you certainly get a lot less for your money."  My third, on examining more closely the refined packaging was:  "Perfect?" 

People who know me, some with significant annoyance, will assert that I occasionally read or say something and latch onto it as a subject of conversation, ad nauseam, despite the fact that it is, at best, irrelevant, and often tedious.  Such was the case with the blurb on the Hershey Sticks package:

Perfectly Sized
60
CALORIES

perstick

(I'm sure they mean "per stick" but you're looking at an unaltered photograph.)  We know that the amount of agony that consumer firms undergo in designing packaging far exceeds even the tedium of the following exegesis, so I have to believe that, other than the presumptively-accidental anemic spacing, that they have very carefully considered every letter, every point size, and even the slant of the italics.  When they print "Perfectly Sized" I think it's safe to say that they didn't just put that in at random.

"Perfect" is a tricky word.  Although we know what it means, we misuse it all the time.  It is a grammatical "absolute."  If you say that something is "good" or "wonderful" or "excellent," there remains the possibility that the thing next to it is "better."  Not so with "perfect," to which there can be no comparison.  Yet "more perfect than" is heard all the time.  What does it mean to assert that Hershey Sticks are "perfectly sized?"  Is it that 60 calories is the perfect size, and that anything that isn't a "stick" of 60 calories, regardless of composition, is somehow of an inferior size?  Less sweepingly, is 60 calories the perfect size for a stick of chocolate?  Or is it the physical size that is critical, and the number of calories of less significance, i.e., is the blurb unitary or separable?

Any of these interpretations of the meaning of the blurb might be supportable, but they are all open to external challenge.  The package, solely under the control of Hershey's Chocolate, doesn't have a section for rebuttals; neither is there an ombudsman to present alternative takes on perfection to their marketing department.  If I, for example, were to assert that 55 calories were "perfect" and 60 calories bordering on the excessive, I would have little chance of compelling a recall.  And yet, in these days of consumer activism, class action suits, and tree-nut paranoia, I find it difficult to believe that Hershey would deliberately promulgate so open a challenge to the chocolate eating community, and, more importantly, to their competitors, each with its battery of white-lipped attorneys. 

Tomorrow, I shall try to resolve the "true meaning" of the blurb.  Although "true" can be even more slippery than "perfect."


* David Packard endeared himself to me with a quotation in an interview he undertook before he suffered from the impediment referred to above.  He had left H-P to become an undersecretary of defense, and eventually moved on.  When asked what was his most significant accomplishment while working for the government, he said "I quit smoking."

2006
Richard Factor