Thursday, September 22, 2022

Selling Toothpaste and Presidents

Selling Toothpaste and Presidents
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, September 22, 2022, p. A4

When travelling the lecture circuit decades ago, I would occasionally get off on a rant regarding advertising’s manipulation of consumer demand.

I would ask the audience to look at the labels on the products in their bathroom cabinet for any that were not heavily advertised on television.

At that time Procter & Gamble’s Gleem toothpaste was widely advertised as “the toothpaste for people who can’t brush after every meal.”

After such lectures audience members would come forward to dispute my assertions. One especially agitated adult with red face, fiery eyes, and a forefinger in my chest asserted, “Other people, maybe; but I’m sure not influenced by commercials.”

As if to politely change the subject, I asked, “What toothpaste do you use?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Just curious,” I said.

“I use Gleem.”

“With all those toothpastes to choose from, why did you happen to pick Gleem?”

“Well, it’s just, … it’s just …, well I just can’t brush after every meal.”

Since many of the lectures were at academic institutions, my ongoing toothpaste survey revealed that most academics used Crest. (Part of my reason for following up with the Gleem fan.)

Since my dentist believed that brushing and flossing twice daily with water – or if one insisted on a dentifrice, baking soda – was adequate, why would academics use Crest?

It’s only a guess, but it turns out the American Dental Association had endorsed Crest. Perhaps dentists’ research revealed it did less harm than other toothpastes. I don’t know. Perhaps it was only natural that academics would go with the toothpaste choice of their fellow professionals.

Apparently by 2014 consumers had discovered another way to brush after every meal, or otherwise manage their dental hygiene without Gleem. With rapidly declining Gleem sales P&G took it off the market.

What does this have to do with the United States’ and other nations’ current slide from democracies into dictatorships?

Advertising isn’t new. One of the earliest ads (for “fine quality needles”) was printed from a copper plate during China’s Sung dynasty (960-1276). Advertising later began claiming its products raised one’s social status. But industrialization provided the products, and boost in advertising, from $200 million in 1880 to $3 billion in 1920.

This was soon followed by the use of psychological techniques, such as appealing to potential customers’ emotions of love, hate and fear. The economy grew by creating millions my late friend, Molly Ivins, described as people believing “more is better, and too much is not enough.”

As Adolph Hitler discovered, these same techniques had the power to flip a country noted for its educational system, creative literature, painting, poetry, music, theatre, and architecture into a Nazi state. (Photo credit: Danzigers Cheer Hitler, Sept. 19, 1939, wikimedia commons.)

Reflect on that, and then think about our current political campaigns' use of social media, the role of MAGA and its leader, in flipping a political party. As media critic Professor Rose Goldsen observed, from toothpaste to presidents, “Even though we know we are being taken, we are still being taken.”
Nicholas Johnson is the author of "Test Pattern for Living."

Gleem. “Do Crest Toothpastes Have the ADA Seal of Acceptance?” Crest, (“Has Crest Pro–Health Toothpaste received the Seal of Acceptance from the American Dental Association? Yes. In fact, Crest Pro-Health Gel Toothpaste - Clean Mint, Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste - Clean Cinnamon, Crest Pro-Health Night Toothpaste, and Crest Pro-Health Whitening are the toothpastes that have received the ADA Seal of Acceptance for protecting against all these areas: cavities, gingivitis, plaque, sensitivity, stains and bad breath. They also help prevent tartar buildup and freshen breath.”)

“Gleem … the toothpaste for people who can’t brush after every meal,” image and text in LIFE magazine Sept. 9, 1957,

Rudy Sanchez, “Procter & Gamble Resurrects Gleem As An Electric Toothbrush, Nov. 11, 2019, (“Many consumers may not have heard of Gleem, which, despite being only recently retired, has long been bested by toothpaste competitors like Colgate and Crest. Although parent company Procter & Gamble shelved Gleem in 2014, they rebranded the product as Crest Fresh and White, forced to wear the livery of a one-time market rival.”)

History of Advertising. “History of Advertising,” Wikipedia, (“A copper printing plate dated back to the Song dynasty used to print posters in the form of a square sheet of paper with a rabbit logo with "Jinan Liu's Fine Needle Shop" and "We buy high quality steel rods and make fine quality needles, to be ready for use at home in no time" written above and below.[3] It is considered the world's earliest identified printed advertising medium.[4]” … “Total advertising volume in the United States grew from about $200 million in 1880 to nearly $3 billion in 1920.[43]” … “The former chair at Johns Hopkins University, John B. Watson was a highly recognized psychologist in the 1920s. After leaving the field of academia he turned his attention towards advertising where he implemented the concepts of behaviorism into advertising. This focused on appealing to the basic emotions of the consumer: love, hate, and fear. This type of advertising proved to be extremely effective as it suited the changing social context which led to heavy influence of future advertising strategy and cemented the place of psychology in advertising.[57][58]”)

“China in 1000 CE; The Most Advanced Society in the World,” 2022, (“During the Song (Sung) Dynasty (960-1276), technology was highly advanced in fields as diverse as agriculture, iron-working, and printing.”)

Germany. “The Weimar Renaissance,” Britannica, (“Amid the political and economic turmoil of the early 1920s, Germany’s cultural and intellectual life was flowering. … In 1919 Gropius became the founder and first director of the Bauhaus school of design in Weimar, the most important institution in Germany for the expression of Modernism’s aesthetic and cultural vision. Bauhaus artists believed that they were creating a new world through their painting, poetry, music, theatre, and architecture.”)

Rose Goldsen quote. Nicholas Johnson, “Forty Years of Wandering in the Wasteland,” Federal Communications Law Journal, 55 F.C.L.J 521 (2003), (“[FN22]. (“The latest organization of media educators was announced as this paper was being written. See Action Coalition for Media Education, at http:// (last visited Mar. 2, 2003). However media-savvy one may be, a search of cupboards and cabinets may provide illustrations of an insight Rose Goldsen [author of “The Show and Tell Machine,” 1977] once shared with the Author: ‘Even though we know we are being taken, we are still being taken.’") And in Nicholas Johnson, “Your Second Priority,” (2007/2008), p. 83.
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