The Secret World of Packaged Goods Hotlines

The nice thing about packaged goods is, you never have to call for help. Boil 6-8 minutes. Apply liberally. Just add water. Still, you can, if you want, call these companies. The numbers are right there on the products. We guess, once in a while, you’d lodge a complaint or a compliment. But what else on earth would you call about? What is unclear about candy or toothpaste that warrants a call to a professional?

On the flip side, what goes on in these call centers? Are actual people fielding these calls? Are they trained to say as little as possible, or do they have a few helpful household hints up their sleeve? And what do they say to the guy who for the life of him can’t figure out the mac and cheese?

We grabbed six products at random from around the apartment and dialed. Having no real questions, we made some up. We reached four women, one man and one computer. The computer told us, eventually, that Banana Boat SPF 50 is right for us. If these people weren’t exactly Heloise, they weren’t incompetent, either. And they weren’t rude–which, given our questions, is saying something…

POUNCE CAT TREATS / Del Monte Pet Products / (800)-252-7022
Q. My cat goes crazy for the Pounce cat treats. Is it possible for cats to be physically addicted to them?
A. Eh, they can be. You know what I mean? If they really, really like something? But it’s not going to be harmful in any way. If they’re not eating too much or what have you, they’re fine. But they can be. To be honest with you, that’s a product that we get a lot of calls about, that cats love. As soon as you shake the bottle, they come running? That’s not uncommon.
Q. Not something to worry about?
A. No, not at all.
Q. Is there a Pounce Lite that I could buy?
A. Well, it just depends on the flavor. There’s different ones, like the chicken. Some might be a little darker than others.

WHEAT THINS / Nabisco / (800)-NABISCO
Q. Can you tell me the difference in taste between the regular Wheat Thins and the reduced fat?
A. If I can just put you on hold for a few moments, I will look into that for you.
Q. Sure.
[piano music]
A. Thank you for holding. Unfortunately, I’m not showing any information on the taste difference, what it would be.
Q. I see.
A. Is there something wrong with yours?
Q. No, I was just wondering if you could describe the taste difference, but I guess you don’t have any information on that.
A. No, unfortunately I don’t. I’m sorry about that.


aux Etats-Unis / (800)-308-EASY
Q. Is Febreze intended only for fabrics, or can it be used for other purposes?
A. For the fabric refresher, it is only supposed to be used for fabrics. We also do have the Air Effects, but that is only for the air.
Q. Only for the air?
A. Like, around the house? If you have an odor in the air? You just spray it in the air. It’s an air freshener.
Q. Would that work for a cat-litter box?
A. You don’t want to spray it in there, because it will not work to help eliminate the odor. To get it out of the air and stuff, that would work. But it’ll always be there [in the litter box].

HONEY NUT CHEERIOS / General Mills / (800)-328-1144
Q. How many bowls a day of Honey Nut Cheerios would you say is too many?
A. There’s not a recommended amount or anything, no. I’m sorry. I mean, how many bowls do you eat a day?
Q. Well, sometimes a few.
A. Oh, ok. Yeah, there’s not a recommended amount or anything like that. I mean, I don’t … there shouldn’t be … too much. I don’t think there’s really too much. Unless you eat a whole box a day. I mean, I know people that actually do that. But I don’t know. I don’t think that would consist of overeating. Honey Nut Cheerios does have a lot of vitamins and calcium. But I don’t think there’s like a recommended amount or anything like that. Are you on a certain diet, or …
Q. No, not really. I was just wondering if you could eat too much.
A. Nothing has been said about Honey Nut Cheerios … about too much consumption. I mean, it should be ok. You eat a couple bowls a day?
Q. Yeah.
A. That should be fine. I really don’t think that would harm you in any way.
Q. Is it ok to eat it for dinner, as opposed to breakfast?
A. Oh, I’m sure it is. I mean, obviously it’s a lighter dinner. There’s people that eat … well, I’m sure you’re familiar with [Kellogg’s] Special K diet. Of course, we don’t [own] Special K, but obviously everybody’s familiar. You know, they eat two bowls a day, and then they eat a sensible dinner. That’s a way to lose weight, obviously, so a couple bowls a day wouldn’t hurt you. If you eat an extra bowl, I honestly don’t think that would do any harm.

Q. Do you recommend using Skippy peanut butter in sandwiches with Fluff marshmallow cr

A. [pause] I don’t see why not.
Q. I didn’t see it in the recipe section of the Web site.
A. I don’t know if I have any additional information than what you saw, but let me just take a quick peek. Hold the line, please.
A. Yeah, I don’t see anything in here, sir, that says you could not use it together.
Q. I think it’s called a Fluffernutter sandwich.
A. …
Q. I guess you didn’t see anything on that.
A. No. And I’ve got quite a long list here.

Tim Nudd is the editor for Adfreak and a freelance writer living in New York.

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