Detergents and… Dental Strips?

In Roland Barthes’ “Soap-powders and Detergents” from Mythologies, we learn about the dynamic of advertising campaigns that different companies use. In his particular example, he talks about the different connotations that are associated with products that serve the same purpose, but are of a different form of product. Two quarreling brands of laundry cleaners showcase advertisements differently. The brand “Omo”, a detergent, is noted for being able to overcome the negative connotation that detergent is harmful to the skin and clothing. To combat the “Persil” soap-powder brand, Omo’s commercials “indicate the effect of the product (and in superlative fashion, incidentally), but they chiefly reveal its mode of action; in doing so, they involve the consumer in a kind of direct experience with the substance” (37). They show exactly what their product does, which effectively neutralizes the myth of detergent being harmful.

In the vein of materials that clean, we turn our attention to whitening strips and toothpaste. We live in a world where cleanliness is equivalent to class and how presentable one is. Everyone knows the rule of brushing at least twice a day, flossing, and using mouthwash to ensure proper dental hygiene. However, that’s not enough. Even with this method, there is still the possibility of something awful occurring in your mouth: yellow teeth. Enter whitening toothpaste. Just like nobody wants stains on their clothes, nobody wants stains on their teeth. There is a similar connotation with whitening ingredients in toothpaste as with the harmful chemicals in detergents. However, this Crest 3D White Deluxe Diamond Strong (which, by the way, is quite an impressive array of superficial titles to grant to a toothpaste) shows us, in a similar way to Omo’s detergent, the benefits of whitening:

Stronger enamel. Whitens your teeth. It has benefits! You can take selfies and not delete them because of your off-white teeth. The visual shows us exactly how the toothpaste will better the teeth. Like with the description of Omo’s detergent advertisement, we are walked through the effects of the toothpaste. Not only that, but the women change from a casual setting (where it’s okay not to necessarily look your best) to a party, where everyone can see you. This shows us that Crest 3D White Luxe Diamond Strong is going to allow us to go out into public without fear of tooth humiliation.

Now, if toothpaste weren’t enough, we also have whitening strips. Whitening toothpaste alone is so 2015. The fear here that has to be overcome is the issue of enamel removal. Everyone knows that enamel protects the teeth, and it’s dangerous to damage it. What’s interesting is that whitening strips seem to do a deeper clean, meaning that you’re able to be more confident with your smile. Let’s take a look at these two ladies enjoying a pleasant brunch in a 2016 commercial:

So, we see dilemma of not passing the tissue test. The issue is highly superficial, yes, but it remains in the same realm of advertising at Omo. If you consider Crest’s other product, just the toothpaste as the Persil of the Omo vs Persil dilemma, Crest Whitening Strips would be the Omo. Not only is it safe, but it’s better than just using whitening toothpaste. Just as Omo detergent is not only safe, but it does a deep clean. We see that by the contrast in the blonde woman’s teeth in either setting. There’s also a social aspect at play here: the women were previously outdoors, but now they are in a clearly elegant restaurant, where one is supposed to show that they are a cut above the rest. An upper crust wouldn’t have white teeth, would they?

As far the competitive teeth whitening industry goes, it’s clear that there’s a relation to maintaining safety, while assuring cleanliness. As Omo mastered the “art of having disguised the abrasive function of the detergent under the delicious image of a substance at once deep and airy” (37-38), Crest shows that their whitening toothpaste (and eventually, the better whitening strips) are safe and won’t harm teeth to get the deep cleaning, whitening effects. The stigma of chemical whitening, then the stigma of accidental enamel removal, are neutralized in these commercials.

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