I recently started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, What the Dog Saw. One of the book’s essays is about the first ad campaigns for at-home hair color, and how those campaigns represent a significant shift in advertising to women.
As we all know, marketing to women used to be generally about shame.
In the book, Gladwell tells the story of Shirley Polykoff, a junior copywriter in New York. Polykoff’s hairdresser had been lightening her hair since she was 15, and by the time Polykoff reached working age, she was fully blonde. She went to a Passover meal at the home of her boyfriend, and while the boyfriend’s father was warm and friendly, Polykoff received an icier reception from her boyfriend’s mother. Safely back in the car, Polykoff asked her boyfriend why his mother didn’t seem to like her.
Polykoff’s boyfriend told her that his mother thought Polykoff “painted” her hair — something no nice girl did! He repeated the question his mother had posed in Yiddish, which, translated, was: “Does she or doesn’t she?”
You may recognize that as the tagline of the first campaign. To overcome the idea that only harlots and starlets colored their hair, the ad company went out of their way to use wholesome looking women to sell their product.
Some years later, L’Oreal was coming to America, and knew that gaining market share from Clairol wasn’t going to be easy. They needed a tagline that would elevate a woman’s decision to color her hair into something more than just a desire to look better. In a stroke of brilliance, their ad company decided to tie haircolor to self worth, and the “Because I’m worth it” campaign was born.
If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know that here at What’s Left Undone, we are firm believers in dousing ourselves in Lysol every day in order to keep our hair smelling fresh. Furthermore, we fret all day long about our dishpan hands, and how they’re keeping romance at bay. (Advertising our worries)
But Gladwell’s point — that at-home hair color marked a dramatic shift in how products were marketed to women — really came home to roost when I saw, for the first time, the new Dove campaign for deodorant.
Have you seen these ads? Have you heard them?! The voice over for the TV spots goes something like this:
“Arm pits are amazing! Stupendous! Absolutely brilliant! In fact, armpits are the only reason to get up in the morning. And you, lucky consumer, you have TWO of them! Wow! You should be CELEBRATING your armpits EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY, because they are truly the very best things ON THE PLANET!”
Really, Dove? Let’s dial it back a notch, shall we?
There are plenty of things to celebrate about the human body. Like how it gets out of bed in the morning, even after you’ve thoroughly abused it with way too much beer and Indian food. Like how it allows some of us (not me) to run marathons and climb mountains. Like how you can give a kidney to a friend, and carry on living with only one, like you never wanted that other one in the first place. Like how you would rather stab a fork in your eye than go to an Aerobics class, but think nothing of jumping up and down for four and a half hours at a rock concert.
I thought I might be missing something, so I decided to do some research.
I asked myself that critical question: Should I be celebrating my armpits? And then I asked the corollary question: Are other people celebrating their armpits, and if so, how?
Herewith, my findings:
- My friends are not celebrating their armpits. They are working, raising children, and actively making the world a better place, but not one of them is celebrating her (or his) armpits.
- Taylor Swift occasionally celebrates her armpits.
- There is a website called Arab Armpit Lovers. I do not recommend it.
- There are numerous websites celebrating hairy female armpits. You do you, honey.
- Armpit tattoos are a major thing. I don’t know how I missed that.
I’m glad advertisers are no longer shaming women (for the most part), but I do think the whole ‘celebrate your pits’ campaign is a bit odd. What’s next? Celebrate that rough patch between your toes that doesn’t respond to any sort of cream, even the expensive, prescription-only steroid ones?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that even Dove realized it went too far, when the decision was made to pull the following piece of the current campaign:
Maybe the good people of New Jersey were just too busy celebrating their own, personal armpits to appreciate the goodwill of this statewide ad celebration! That’s the only thing I can think of.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to tend to these hideous dishpan hands…