A Doggie What?

This is the time of year when I am buried underneath catalogs of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions. It’s an old fashioned thing. Most of you probably went paperless sometime ago. Now you get spam, tweets, likes, bites, burps, and whatever other insidious means of assaulting our senses that marketers come up with. You can easily delete and block electronic ads for clothing, food, sporting goods, ad naseum. But I still get paper catalogs. Lots of them. The problem is my wife. She used to hate computers, smart phones, texting, and all modern forms of communication. It was a six month argument to get more RAM for my computer. If it weren’t for my work, she wouldn’t have let me have a computer in the house at all.

Then she discovered ZAPPOS. The fact that she could shoe shop for hours at a time without leaving her chair was like finding out that Santa is real. I don’t know what it is about women and shoes other than I’m not the first man to notice the obsession. And she didn’t stop at shoes. The entire internet became her mall. She got hooked. It’s so bad I now have to reserve time on the computer. If it weren’t for the fact that I use the computer to generate income, I don’t know that she’d ever let me in front of a monitor again. But she doesn’t trust online ordering so she uses the telephone and snail mail to conduct her transactions. Which put us on mailing lists. At least I understand the catalogs we get now. It’s all stuff related to what she actually buys. That has not always been the case.

Exhibit A is the magazine Psychology Today. When I was in college in the Seventies, I got a student discount for some magazines. I chose Psychology Today thinking it would help me become a better teacher. I was naïve enough to think that using science to help me create a better classroom environment would be a good thing. I didn’t know about school boards, administrators, and “But this is the way we’ve always done it.” It’s amazing how an institution that chases after every new educational fad can be so opposed to real innovation. But that’s an issue for another day. What I didn’t understand in 1975 was why ordering a psychology magazine got me on a mailing list for an “adult novelty items” catalog. I didn’t get the connection. I wasn’t really offended by the catalog. At least that’s what it purported to be. It was designed in the style of newspaper insert and was printed on paper thinner the toilet paper in a mall bathroom. I couldn’t figure out the marketing connection between an interest in psychology and electric doggie dongs available in black or white “Real life plastic.”

Ok, take a deep breath. Let’s consider this rationally. I don’t want to know about who would buy such an item. It’s just too weird. Not the marital aid part. Such things have been in use for thousands of years. A look at the patent archives shows that soon after electricity was harnessed for household use, electric massage devices became quite popular. They were advertised everywhere to “relieve female stress and anxiety.” There were even doctors who specialized in using such devices to help their female patients. From my research these physicians were quite popular. I wasn’t even bothered by the specificity of the item. Although the desire for doggy daddy parts has to be indicative of a childhood trauma so severe it strains my imagination. Maybe it’s the writer in me, but what I couldn’t stop thinking about is who manufactures, markets, and distributes such items. That was the real story.

One of my jobs when I was going to college was in a plastics factory, in Phoenix, in the summer, in a metal building with no air conditioning. When I tell you that I know what is involved in the injection molding business, believe me. Making plastic items is a complicated process involving a lot of people. First, the engineer has to obtain a model. There had to be meetings about what breed to use. Chihuahuas were definitely out but a mastiff might be too much of a good thing. Then someone had to procure the dog and make a casting. Metal workers had to sculpt the metal injection mold to match the casting. Chemists had to figure out the right kind of plastics to use and secure a source. What physical properties should the product have? Should it be dishwasher safe? Electrical engineers had to locate suppliers and integrate the motor and battery compartment with the casting. An assembly line had to be built. Workers had to be hired and trained.

Then it really got interesting. Marketers had to design packaging and instruction sheets. An artist had to do a drawing and color scheme for the box. Ad copy had to be written for the catalogue. Salespeople had to be given samples and order forms. Business cards had to be printed up. And what would such a card say? Willy Loman: purveyor of electric doggie dongs? What do the wife and kids say about Daddy’s occupation? Take your daughter to work day would be very awkward. And all of this begs the ultimate question: Where did the market research come from? Who went to the mall and stopped random women and asked them what specific properties did they want in a stress relieving device? And how many women were brave enough to admit that they wanted something in a canine variety?

The point of all of my questions is that satisfying a single consumer request is a very complicated process. It is capitalism and Business 101 at its finest. The internet has clearly simplified things greatly and increased efficiency enormously. I read the other day that a person can go to a business store and use the store’s 3D printer to make adult novelties. No wonder unemployment is still a problem. All those jobs that revolved around canine related products are disappearing.  It gives the phrase “They just don’t make things like they used to” a whole new meaning. I know I could go online and see if this product is still available. Which would answer my long time question about whether it was a successful product launch. But I am afraid to look because of the catalogs I might start getting. My wife would never let me on the computer again. Some questions are best left unanswered.