In Praise of BiC

I’ve spent more time recently noticing and thinking about the increasing invasiveness and irritability factor of corporate marketing in the USA. Proctor and Gamble spent $2.5 billion on television advertising last year. Is it possible U.S. consumers spent $2.5 billion too much on P&G consumer products last year? The ads themselves are insultingly mindless, but we pay for them again when we buy that box of laundry detergent.

Do companies that own a market share think they own the consumer, too? They act that way. The advertising cartels are killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

Their in-your-face tactics compete for our attentions and business in an increasingly busy and over-crowded consumer marketing landscape. Obnoxious TV ads for fast foods and financial services generally come close to the top my personal hit list. Annoying radio spots for loan companies and car dealerships have to weigh in a close second. Worst of all, unfortunately, are the pervasive spam and uninvited near-spam marketing messages that flood our mailboxes and web pages with hideous messages on the internet.

And it doesn’t stop when you click “MARK AS SPAM”, jump to a new website, or throw the junk mail in the shredder. If you carry a credit card, or recently bought a home appliance, or had your car serviced, you’re marked as a target for even more unwelcome solicitations. I am still getting regular mailings, disguised as “Official” mail, to remind me I didn’t buy the extended warranty on my Maytag dryer, two years ago.

So let us sing the praises of BiC.

BiC products always work, but never intrude.

For some reason I always thought “BiC” stood for “British Industries”, but Societe Bic is actually French, a contraction of the name of founder Marcel Bich, circa 1945. As you know, BiC makes disposable lighters, ballpoint pens, and a number of other indispensable but low-profile consumer items which, over the decades, have generally eclipsed the competition. BiC products are simple, cheap, and work exceptionally well.

BiC has its own website, and an entry on BiC can be found in Wikipedia. Every company has to have its own web page today. Unsurprisingly, BiC’s is relatively tasteful and informative.

Given my attraction to presentation-grade personal accessories, my loyalty to BiC is even more telling.

I have always had a compulsive weakness for really nice pens. Over the years, I’ve accumulated some stunning fountain pens and gift-set executive ball points. I gave up on fountain pens decades ago, after one ruined dress shirt too many. The ballpoints all sit in desk drawers, as beautiful as the day they came out of the gift box — and out if ink. If you’d have thought that Parker Pen and Cross might standardize the refills, even for self-survival, you’d be wrong.

I buy BiC ballpoints by the dozen. They write so well and last so long that a package lasts until next Christmas, when I buy new stocking stuffers. I ran a BiC through the washing machine the other day. It didn’t leak, but the cap was glued on, by what, I didn’t want to find out. I just threw it out, grabbing another cheap, reliable, disposable, ubiquitous BiC.

I’ve had an affection for Zippo lighters for decades, too. They always run out of fuel when I’m nowhere near a can of lighter fluid. If you overfill a Zippo, you risk a nasty chemical burn from raw Naptha, usually on your leg underneath the pants pocket. You have to remember to pack spare flints under the cotton batting inside the case. The fumes don’t smell great either. And, if you forget and have one confiscated at the airport, you’re out a fair chunk of money. Again, I carry BiC. The presentation-grade table lighter is also another one of those same cheap, reliable, disposable, ubiquitous BiC’s.

Others have tried to copy the BiC formula. Other brands of cheap ballpoints generally don’t write well, or for very long. And personally, I find other disposable lighters, even Scripto, to be pretty awful, awkward, unreliable inventions.

I suppose BiC advertises – their web site says they do. But I haven’t really noticed a BiC ad in decades. “Flick your BiC” (circa 1973) is all I need to remember, and it’s a slogan nobody is likely to forget. I like it like that, and I’m sure my loyalty has something to do with recognizing a company that seems to support my right not to be hounded when I buy a product or service.

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