Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Velvet trees

Have you seen the new advert for Velvet toilet paper? I just can't ignore advertising like this that throws numerical information at you without any clear basis.

They tell us that for every tree they use in producing their toilet paper they plant three more. Mathematically, I have no problem with that.

They then tell us that so far they have planted three million trees. OK, so that's presumably to replace the one million trees they have used. But then they say: 'so if twice as many of you choose Velvet that will be six million trees ...'

No, it won't. They will get to six million trees with their existing customers in precisely how long it's taken them 'so far' to get to three million trees. They don't need any more people to choose their product, because the three million and six million numbers are aggregates. They just need a little more time.

As a matter of interest, we each use about 15 kg of toilet paper a year. And one of the trees they chop down to make it produces on average 45 kg of toilet paper. So, we each use up one tree in about three years!

We are not told how long the Velvet tree-planting project has been going on. Let's assume it's been going for one year. Then the three million trees they have planted will have been in response to the one million they have chopped down to meet the needs of three million users over that year. Give these three million users another year and they will achieve the six million trees planted without any more of us switching to their product. On this basis, if their current advertising campaign does double the number choosing Velvet, then this time next year they will have to have planted nine million trees 'so far'.

I've got nothing against the scheme. I just like to keep an eye on the way they try to dazzle us with numbers, not giving us all the information we need to make sense of them.

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