Rediscovering an oral tradition

PETER YORK ON ADS NO 86: COLGATE
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The Independent Culture
IS toothpaste boring? Can it reflect the leading edge of what are now called life sciences, or does toothpaste development no longer present the same shining career-path to The Brightest and The Best as in the 1950s, the golden age of 'fmcg' (fast moving consumer goods - small things in packets)?

These questions are raised by Colgate's new epic, where its eponymous makers argue furiously that they've been making toothpaste for ages and "we're still not bored". They start as they mean to go on, with period fun in black and white: a pair of 1950s housewives saying "well, carrying on like that, just look". And there follows a gallery of delicious old Colgate ads from the 1950s and 60s, demonstrating that Colgate has indeed been at it a long time, has made startling developments in toothpaste technology over the years and, above all, has a bit of an attitude. Thus we get white-coated scientists; 1960s lovelies with the ring of confidence; nuclear families brushing together, and the roster of achievement from dual fluoride with calcium to tartar control. This is what is called, in marketing speak, "refreshing brand values": telling new viewers about the brand's traditional virtues and its new achievements.

Yes, but do people find toothpaste boring? Can they see significant differences between brands? Do they see dual fluoride as an advance quite as exciting as, say, power steering or microwave cooking? And is a long provenance a priority criterion in toothpaste decisions?

Perhaps research has shown that toothpaste is seen as so boring, and the choices between brands so low-threshold or automatic pilot, that only history and humour can give the slightest competitive edge.

Or did the creative chaps just alight on the old footage with the little whoops of joy?

8 Video supplied by Tellex Commercials.

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