The Times of India Aug 15, 2011 edition carried a special supplement that was an extract of the Times of India Bombay Edition dated Aug 15, 1947. It was wonderful to read the mood of the country on the day of its independence. Both India and Pakistan got significant mentions - not surprising at all since they had only parted ways the day before. Also seen in the paper were grainy photographs of political leaders along with adverts selling milk, apparel, oil - and toothpaste.
Toothpaste? Yes. Colgate. My childhood favorite. Boldly asking “ARE YOU AFRAID TO KISS HIM... because of your breath?” WHOA!!! STOP!!! What was that? There was more. “He leans near, whispering romantic words. But how can you be sure your kiss will please? Are you sure your breath is sweet and fresh?... So be careful. Use Colgate Dental Cream.” Wow!!! Toothpaste sure was sold different in those days.
And then I recalled my MBA. Lessons on how the exclusivity of a product is lost when it becomes a commodity. That the uniqueness of a luxury brand is diluted when it becomes just another product. So in a country largely used to neem sticks & tooth powders in 1947, was toothpaste a luxury afforded only by the elite? Was that why the advt. was oriented more towards pleasing HIM than the obvious health benefits? One can never say. But what I can say with absolute confidence is that millions of young Indian males in the 80s & 90s would have been spared tons of insecurity if they knew that a product to fight bad breath was once sold to women. Let me explain....
'Stops bad breath. Fights tooth decay' intoned one advt. to me in the 80s. Another told me to get the 'Colgate Ring of Confidence'. And I even watched this on TV.... guy approaches a girl; girl turns away because of his bad breath; he brushes Colgate or Close-Up or whatever; and presto - they are into la-la land.
For the go-go youth of the 80s & 90s, bad breath was a masculine issue that we had to overcome. If we aspired to be even within 30 inches of a woman's lips, we better brush baby. I can bet that every morning in the 80s & 90s, millions of groggy-eyed and half-asleep Indian males ran the poor man's breathalyzer routine in their homes - trot into bathrooms, scrub their mouths to the point of bleeding, wipe their lips, and blow breath into their palms to smell them.
Now, can you imagine a single lady doing this? Seriously, come on. What in the hell were we males thinking? If only we had seen this 1947 Colgate advt., we would have realized that the same product was sold to women in a different era for the very same problem. We would have divined that bad breath cannot differentiate between male and female. And we would have then concluded that if a woman takes 5 minutes to brush her teeth every morning, a man can exactly do the same - and smell fantastic. More importantly, every guy would have slept 10 minutes longer and lost lot less blood.
So ladies and gentlemen, boys & girls, here is an Independence Day resolution for you to ponder. The next time you see a pitch for anything that tugs your masculine / feminine strings, don’t fall for it. Instead, go to YouTube and Google first. If that same product or formula has ever been sold once upon a time to the other sex - or to dogs, cats, or silkworms for that matter - chances are that it is not as exclusive as you think. And the money you save will make you smile in ways no toothpaste can.....