Advertising: More gloss than floss: toothpaste at the cutting edge

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The Independent Online

Toothpaste starred in Britain's first commercial break when ITV started in 1955.

Toothpaste starred in Britain's first commercial break when ITV started in 1955. Gibbs SR in a block of ice was the opening flash of turbo- capitalism in a world of bicycling spinsters, just freed from rationing. A raft of ads for fast-moving consumer goods – marketing-speak for little things in tins and bottles, packets and tubes – followed; two-shilling life-changers and status symbols.

The roll-call of early TV adverts would look incredibly basic today. Many of those first-generation categories and brands are barely on TV at all. They're marketed in different, lower-spend ways with point-of-sale cardboard and BOGOFs (Buy One, Get One Free). TV advertising is dominated by high-value/hi-tech – cars and mobile phones – and shops and services. It's been downhill for toothpaste since 1955. It's become commoditised; who can get worked up over a little tube of chalky compound? Over the years, brave advertisers have tried to stoke up interest and add a bit of value. Breath freshening was one angle, fluoride another, then look after your gums. But it was slow, dull stuff, and it looked positively primeval in the world of Egg and Orange.

Macleans is having another go now, on the back of the great tooth- whitening mania. Macleans Ice-Whitening is less expensive and complicated than all the bleaches and lasers people are shelling out on, but it's got a big-looking campaign with a nice simple theme, namely that very white teeth get you instant, casual, anonymous sex. There's a big set, painterly blue-white filters, dry-ice effects, and catatonic-looking girl and boy models doing the catwalk stride in slow motion in a great "Things to Come" atrium with glass lifts. (It looks like an Eighties video promo, of course.)

A nod and a wink is all it takes with these young people and they've got their tongues halfway down each other's throats and consummation behind the bike-sheds any minute. The music is MOP's version of Foreigner's "Cold as Ice" ("you're cold as ice, willing to sacrifice" ... remember?). Some things never change.