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May 30, 2005

Ewww, gross! (profits)

Capitalism comes to the New York Times magazine.

In yesterday's issue, a short article discusses a new product called the Clorox ToiletWand, a toilet brush that has disposable heads so we don't have to (ewww!) clean the brush.

Mary Jo Cook, a Clorox marketing vice president, explains that there were multiple components to what Clorox calls "the ick factor." One was that a regular, reusable toilet brush has to be cleaned after use -- which can itself create a secondary mess, and thus a potential for ick contagion.
But it's really more complex than that.
A related factor was that consumers were interested in something that would let them "start fresh every time," she says. This led to the disposable-head idea: after each cleaning, you are supposed to click a button on the "wand" (a 15-inch plastic handle, basically) that drops the head into the trash can. Preferably, I imagine, a trash can with a lid. In any case, the wand can be holstered in a little hang tab that you can stick to the side of the toilet or can be hidden away in a bathroom cabinet with the replacement heads. The final insight from the ick-factor studies was that the handle needed to be long enough to keep the cleaner physically distant from, in Cook's words, "other people's business."
The Times waxes positively philosophical:
Few objects wind up being celebrated by design fans because of their relationship to disgust. Yet disgust is powerful, probably uniquely human and almost certainly a much bigger part of our lives than we care to admit, as [William Ian] Miller makes clear in his comprehensive book ["The Anatomy of Disgust"].
But Clorox's Mary Jo Cook tops the Times:
"When something disgusts us," Miller writes, "we feel tainted, burdened by the belief that anything that comes into contact with the disgusting thing also acquires the capacity to disgust as a consequence of that contact. We thus hasten to purify ourselves."
We can purify ourselves in that deep bowl full of water, right? Ewww, gross!