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Poor girl can’t live her life because her whitening strips don’t work…

In a current commercial for whitening strips (Listerine, I believe), the girl using the “good” brand whitens her teeth and then goes out and has a happy life, looking in store windows, playing with her boyfriend and his dog, all that stuff. The other girl stands in front of the mirror, feeling frustrated because her whitening strips didn’t work.

So because her teeth are white she can’t go out? Is that the message the commercial is sending us?

She won’t be attractive and have a dog or a boyfriend.

Whitening strips might be useful for someone who’s been a long-time smoker or tea drinker or regularly participates in some teeth-staining activity. But does not having really white teeth mean you’re not a beautiful person? No, it’s an artificial construct.

I’m not sure why I find this ad particularly frustrating. There so many similar messages that we all receive day after day. Lose more weight so you’re skinny like a model, have a 6-pack or you’re not worth looking at, if you’re not pretty you lose worth as a person.

Fortunately, some of these problems can be solved by buying the “right” product–diet pills, makeup, plastic surgery. Whitening strips are a small and comparatively safe part of it all. And maybe that’s what bugs me.

I don’t care if you want to whiten your teeth. But to have a company imply that my normal teeth are bad is disgusting. I practice good dental hygiene; I brush and floss and whatnot. But they’re some sort of natural ivory, not unnaturally white, and that’s ok with me.


JB November 18, 2007 at 1:45 pm

What you’ve explained in this post is so prevalent in television marketing, I like to think about it as playing on people’s fears or insecurities.

Mens deoderant ads like the ones for ‘Axe’ show some regular guy, then he uses this deoderant and has beautiful women everywhere and is popular! All because he went out and bought this awesome deoderant!

At least you’re smart enough to see through this and not let this type of advertising get to you.

Marketing is really starting to bother me too…

ms. m&p November 18, 2007 at 2:03 pm

H and I sit around and make fun of commercials like that. As JB wrote, playing to people’s insecurities (or even creating their insecurities) is ubiquitous in advertising. The ones that really get me angry are the ones that are geared towards parents, usually moms, that like to make the viewer feel like a bad parent if they don’t buy a particular product. Come on, is nothing sacred?

Amanda R. November 18, 2007 at 2:04 pm

I think the whitening strip advertisement was saying their strip dissolves on your teeth so you don’t have to wait 30 minutes to go out and do something. The other strips you have to leave in place and then remove and then rinse or brush off the remaining gel stuff, which takes precious time out of your life when you could be enjoying your boyfriend and dog, etc.


Andrew Stevens November 18, 2007 at 3:07 pm

Not as common in advertising, but much more common in our language and thoughts, is the equally pernicious idea that intelligence is a measure of moral worth. Isn’t that what “Impostor Syndrome” is all about? Fear that people will find out that you’re not as intelligent, and therefore not as valuable, as they think you are?

I have found that virtually nobody believes that beauty or athletic ability actually makes one person better than another (even if many people wish that they were more beautiful and more athletic — I do myself). However, I have met a very great many people who do seem to believe that about intelligence. My opinion is that this is because intellectuals shape our ideas and values and, hardly surprisingly, they value intellectual ability. Of course, once I point out that intelligence is not a measure of the worth of a person, everybody instantly agrees with me, but it’s very clear that a great many of them have been making this error in their thoughts.

By the way, fairly recently in my life, I started working with a lot of people who are, shall we say, very well-to-do. One of the things I noticed very early on was just how unnaturally white everybody’s teeth seemed to be. So those ads are definitely working.

plonkee November 18, 2007 at 5:08 pm

I’m sure there’s a rumour that deodorant was invented by advertising.

I don’t like this kind of thing. But then I probably have ‘British’ teeth.

mrsmicah November 18, 2007 at 6:09 pm

JB: I took a class on semiotics where we examined advertisements. It was both fascinating and disgusting.

Ms. M&P, have you seen the ones they’re running on with shocked looking babies telling you to get life insurance?

Amanda, we never have the sound on, but that’s certainly a possibility. The girl with the old-school strip should just go out and have fun anyway. In theory, dissolving strips is a cool idea.

Andrew, I’ve noticed that a lot too. Mr. Micah and I discussed the origins of the phenomenon on our afternoon walk. 🙂

Plonkee, I know that my great grandmother didn’t use deodorant for years. She said “I never noticed people smelling bad.”

Early Listerine ads featured people like the beautiful spinster whose little niece tells her that she has bad breath (why she’s not married, I guess). Fortunately, she can fix it with Listerine.

E.C. November 18, 2007 at 11:21 pm

I’ve had the sound on, and Amanda is right. However, I got a free sample of the Listerine dissolving strip things, and they were icky. As they partially dissolved, they got all gummy and wadded up and stayed stuck until I brushed them off. I think I’m with you; my teeth are fine they way they are.

fathersez November 19, 2007 at 4:47 am

Welcome to Advertising Terrorism.

A term coined by Punny Money.

They will find ways and means to get us to open our wallets, one way or another……sigh.

Jon November 19, 2007 at 10:38 am

Most of the examples mentioned so far strike me as funny more than undermining or belittling. I understand the sentiment many people have against advertising directed at children, but I think it generally is taken too far against ads targeted at adults.

Adults should be able to evaluate ads and come to a conclusion that is correct for themselves, whether that’s “I am not as pretty as her, but buying Brand X shampoo won’t change that” or “The people in this jeans commercial are inspiring. I really need to lose weight so that I can get more out of life.”

Jessica November 20, 2007 at 5:00 pm

Preach it, sister! Don’t hold back! :o)

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