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Ken Magill

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FTC Doesn't Have Enough to do

7/19/11

By Ken Magill

As Congress anguishes over where it can possibly cut spending, I know of at least one place where we can start slashing right away: the Federal Trade Commission.

How do I know this? Well, the FTC earlier this month put out a call for comment on the Care Labeling Rule for clothing.

Who even knew there was a Care Labeling rule for clothing? What could such a rule possibly dictate?

Clothing care labels should—and do—answer three questions: What temperature should we wash it in? Must we dry clean it? And can we put it in the dryer?

There. Done. Next?

That a single FTC staffer can spend a moment’s time even thinking about the clothing Care Labeling Rule means the agency is overstaffed.

According to the FTC’s notice in the Federal Register, it “promulgated” the rule in 1971 and has amended it three times since.

And boy, were those amendments crucial.

In 1983, the FTC amended the rule to define dry cleaning. Prior to 1983, the FTC had no official definition of dry cleaning.

Phew. That was close.

Think of all the people who would have mistakenly dropped off their expensive wearables at local 7-11s without the FTC there to tell clothing manufacturers what a dry cleaner is.

Defining dry cleaning is like defining gas station—which, come to think of it, is probably also defined somewhere in another Washington bureaucracy that can also be slashed.

But back to Care-Labeling-Rule amendments.

In 2000, the FTC changed the rule’s definitions of “cold,” “warm,” and “hot” water.

From what to what isn’t clear. But we can bet that neither the old nor new definition of “hot” was as simple and straightforward as: “If you put your hand under it and shout ‘Shit! Ouch!’ it’s hot.”

Think about it: There are people at the FTC who spend time on this issue and take it seriously.

Imagine dinner-table discussions at the home of whoever is in charge of the department that manages the Care-Labeling Rule:

“Daddy, what do you do at work?”

“Why, I’m glad you asked, son. Go get me a T-shirt … Now look inside the neck.”

“The neck? My T-shirt doesn’t have a neck.”

“The neck, son. The neck. Look inside the place where you put your head. … See that label? I did that. That label makes me immortal, son. It will be around long after I’m gone. Because of that label, I will be with you all of your life.

“After I’m gone, when you need me, just look at a clothing label. I will always be there speaking to you. Whenever you see the words ‘machine wash, non-chlorine bleach when needed’ or ‘wash warm with like colors, delicate cycle,’ it will be my voice you hear saying them.

“But you know what, son? Even that is not my greatest accomplishment. You know what my greatest accomplishment is?

“What, dad?”

“I have saved America from shrunken sweaters.”

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