for release September 27, 2002
by Melodie Davis
Speak Up, Maybe You'll Change Something
Ever fume about a jar, cereal box, or plastic inner packaging that you couldn't open? Ever see a sign and say, "That is so confusing." Or, "Sounds like they don't even want me here." Ever wonder why they put 10 dogs in a typical frankfurter package, while the bun makers insist on selling you 8 buns at a time?
My mother has had modest success in writing to companies and complaining (when they deserve it). One of her most noteworthy efforts involved writing to Imperial margarine after they changed their old stand by recipe for it. She wrote something along the lines of "What have you done to my favorite margarine? I've bought it for years. The new stuff tastes awful. I am very unhappy and will not buy this terrible stuff."
She said she never expected to hear anything but a couple months later got a letter back with a coupon for her to try Imperial again. "We have changed the recipe back," they noted. She was not only happy, but also a little shocked. She felt that surely she hadn't been the only one to complain.
One of the most famous consumer revolts in history involved marketing experts (I just know they were to blame) advising Coca-Cola that it was time to update its taste for modern consumers. A "New Coke" was rolled out in 1985, sweeter than the recipe in use for almost 100 years. Consumer rejected the new drink, and just three months later, the old formula was pacifying drinkers again.
I've never caused anything historical to happen, but I was pleased when my alma mater took my letter of complaint to heart, which cited numerous examples of signage at the library, which seemed very unfriendly. My favorite example involved a sign saying simply, "Not an Entrance." This was at a door where students previously entered. There were no signs telling a newcomer where, indeed, they could find an entrance if this wasn't one. The new sign now not only tells visitors where to find the entrance, but an arrow points the way.
Then there was the day I helped a city police department maybe avoid a lawsuit. Traveling in a nearby city, I had a small fender bender. The other party and I started to exchange insurance information while waiting for the police to arrive. When an officer arrived, he gave us each a handy little card with which we could record the pertinent information: name, address, name of insurance company, race.
Race? I stared at the card. What did my or anyone's race have to do with it? I was kind of astounded to find this kind of reference in 1999. Subsequently I wrote a polite letter to the police department with a head's up that they might want to change the card before someone with a lawsuit forced the issue. They wrote me a nice letter back saying, "After reading your letter and looking at the card, your comments are well founded. We are in the process of making the change plus one or two others."
It felt good to know that sometimes speaking up brings results.
Then there are some times when it is just good to speak up because it is the right thing to do and people need to hear a dissident voice. After all, if no one complains about something, then companies or presidents say, "Well, we haven't had any negative feedback, so people must like this."
Long ago, when we were still children, my mother once wrote to a major cereal company after they put what to her were hideous, horrible Halloween masks right on the cereal box for children to cut out and wear. She wrote, "There are enough terrible things in the world without putting more out there. I think they are so bad they might take a child's appetite away." She got a letter back saying they were sorry but the company thought the children would enjoy having Halloween masks on the boxes.
It's even good to complain when columnists make big boo boos and write something that they had no business saying. Of all the people in the world to offend, I made a major faux pas back in April when I wrote about teaching honesty and noted that you couldn't find many lawyers around today who were as honorable as old Abe Lincoln, or who would work for no pay. Big mistake, and I do apologize; a number of lawyers or relatives of lawyers wrote me to say that many many lawyers do pro bono work (that means free) and some of the bigger firms higher lawyers to handle all cases free for those who can't afford services. It takes only a few scoundrels to give an occupation a bad rap, so I'll accept 30 lashes with the late Ann Lander's proverbial wet noodle.
So, speak up. Start a movement, or at least get a margarine company to go back to its original recipe.
What would you like to sound off about? Share your stories for a future column. Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 850 words; end material = 105 words
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