How advertising turned armpits into vacation destinations

Armpit2I could never work in advertising.

I know that because thoughts of armpits – even deodorized ones – just don’t put a swagger in my step.

Never would I have conjured up a deodorant container superimposed on a snow-covered mountain range with the slogan “The Freshest Places on Earth, Now in Armpit Form.”

Armpits just aren’t my idea of a vacation spot.

Actually, when I think of the Matterhorn, I think of Matterhorn sheep.

Sheep. Armpits. Yeah, I’m comfortable with that association.

But that makes me too much of a realist for advertising. Had I been sitting in a meeting with a group of  Type A personalities hell-bent on creating a new slogan for deodorant, it might have gone like this:

Type A: “We’ve got to reinvent the armpit. Bring it into the 21st century.”

Type AA: “Yeah! Yeah! I like it! Something manly. Something mod. Make the armpit cool.”

Me: “But they’re armpits.”

Type AAA: “I like the “cool” concept. How about tying that to mountains. That’s manly and cool.”

Type A: “Oh, I’m jazzed.”

Type AAAA: “How about a glacier angle? Maybe the Rockies. No, no. Got it! The Alps. The Matterhorn. A pristine container of Matterhorn deodorant looming before a snowy mountain range.”

Type AA: “Love it! Absolutely love it! How much fresher does it get than fresh snow on mountain peaks? Ice. Wind. Freedom.”

Me: (Holds up arm, pulls back shirt sleeve and looks into armpit, perplexed.)smelling-armpits

Type A: “That’s it! The Freshest Places on Earth.”

Type AAA: “Now in Armpit Form.”

Types AA and AAAA: “Brilliant!”

Me: “But they’re armpits.”

Types A, AA, AAA and AAAA: “Are you always this negative?”

Actually, when I saw this ad, it did evoke an image, but it had nothing to do with fresh mountain peaks. Rather, it was this image of women in lab coats with their noses in men’s armpits.

I remember the picture vividly from my childhood.  My wife says I remember little of my childhood. I do remember this picture, though. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

I thought the picture came from Life magazine, but I can’t find its provenance. It floats around the Internet now, usually unidentified. As I remember, it’s of a laboratory that tests smells, perhaps one that comes up with names like Matterhorn and Swagger. Or one that suggests declaring armpits among the freshest places on earth.

There is a flip side to all this, though: While Old Spice caters to men by promising mountain cool, other companies promote the idea of dry: Soft & Dri, Certain Dri, Hyper-Dri. (Notice how they never promise dry, though.)

In the 1960s, Shulton even called its deodorant Desert Dri and used ads set in the Sahara.

I’m not sure, but I think the guy in that ad might be swaggering. Either that or he has sand in his armpits.

The guy in this ad definitely does not have swagger. I offer it to show you how much personal hygiene advertising has changed in the last 100 years.

Saturday Evening Post, 4 March 1911
Saturday Evening Post, 4 March 1911

This ad, from the March 4, 1911, issue of the Saturday Evening Post also offers no promise of freedom on the Matterhorn, no veiled sexuality in the Sahara. Rather, it urges men to bathe.

That’s it. It quotes a doctor saying, “The warm, or hot, bath is the only cleaning one; and, for my part, I do not see how anybody can be physically clean who does not take at least one such bath, with soap, every day.”

That’s it: Take a bath. Use warm water and soap.

How refreshing.

Which is why we’ll probably never see anything like it again.

Today, we’re up to our armpits in hyperbole.

That’s my point. Hyperbole hits us so often from so many places that we often don’t even realize it’s there.

Learn to recognize it, though. Learn to move beyond its façade.

And every so often, take a vacation from it.

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