Nobody is naive enough to think that advertising doesn't change us. Ads, after all, convinced the world that the "coffee break" was a thing and that Rudolph was a traditional Christmas character. But no matter how cynical you think you are about the influence of advertising on things we consider traditions, it's always surprising how far it goes. Did you know that advertisers are responsible for ...
#5. Giving Us the Concept of Body Odor
Unless you happen to be a middle-school-aged boy, applying antiperspirant/deodorant is an ingrained, reflexive part of your morning routine. And of course it is, because what's the alternative? We'll tell you what: Sweating your clothes all up, emitting the natural stench of the human body, and experiencing total social rejection from your peers. And you simply can't have that. After all, you're not some sort of savage.
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But It Actually Came From ...
The concept of using chemicals to plug up your armpit's sweat-holes goes all the way back to ... the early 20th century. That's it.
Before that, shockingly, sweating was considered simply a thing that humans did. Sure, it could be inconvenient -- on a hot day, women wore dress shields to sop up all the nastiness oozing from their pores and protect their clothing, while men simply wrung out their undershirts once in a while -- but it wasn't something that people really gave much thought to. In fact, openly discussing bodily functions like sweating was considered impolite at the time.
"It smells like a baboon's rancid taint in here. I'm sure that has nothing to do with you, dear Meredith."
Then along came Edna Murphey with a brand new chemical developed by her dad to keep his hands dry while performing surgery (we should probably mention that he was, in fact, a surgeon). Murphey found that the product could be used to prevent sweating when slathered all over her armpits. So she bottled it up and named it Odorono (Odor? Oh no!), because naming things was not Murphey's strong suit.
Apparently, selling her new wonder product wasn't her strong suit, either, because Murphey immediately ran into a serious roadblock -- people had no idea why they were supposed to want something that stopped them from sweating. Like if they came out with a product today that slowed how fast your fingernails grew, the big reaction would be "Uh, is this really a problem that needs to be solved?"
"Over the course of a lifetime, Nail-Ex shaves entire minutes off of your hygiene routine."
Unlike modern antiperspirants, the ridiculously strong Odorono prevented sweating for up to three days -- which many viewed as something that couldn't possibly be healthy. Add the fact that the active ingredient had to be suspended in an acid that could cause armpit irritation and literally eat holes through clothing, and the product seemed like the invention of a crazy person.
Roy Rosenzweig Center
"You can't have armpit odor if we dissolve your armpits."
But in a massive stroke of luck, Murphey paired up with door-to-door Bible salesman-cum-advertising evil genius James Young, who had one job: make women ashamed of sweat.
First, Young launched a massive ad campaign that painted perspiration as an embarrassing medical condition in need of a cure. Then, once he had established public awareness that antiperspirant was a thing, Young moved on to creating the idea that if you sweated in public, everyone around you would be whispering and snickering at you behind your back -- one 1926 ad went so far as to claim that a woman with underarm sweat "just doesn't belong," even though this had been untrue since the dawn of the species. In the 1930s -- when the Great Depression had everyone worried about, you know, being able to afford food -- Odorono ads spoke of how stinking up the office could lose you your job.
Not to mention making it impossible to find a man, every woman's highest goal.
Thanks to Young's artist-like molding of the public psyche, Odorono went from being something that no one wanted to the product that was now required. Right now there is literally a guy somewhere leaving the house to go to work in the city's sewers where he will be standing knee-deep in human feces all day ... and before he steps out of the bathroom, he will apply deodorant.
#4. Inventing Herpes
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No, we don't mean that advertisers went into the lab and genetically engineered herpes in order to sell herpes medication. We mean they invented the idea that herpes was a thing that people should worry about.
Don't worry, only 85 percent of people can expect to catch this.
Well, how can that be possible? After all, chances are that when you hear the word "herpes," the first thing you think of isn't cold sores. No, your mind immediately jumps to oozing, pulsating sores all over your junk. On the list of places where itchy, nasty sores would be most inconvenient, your wang (or your lady wang) comes in second only to "all up in your asshole." But it gets worse -- not only are the sores disgusting, but you also have to deal with the negative social stigma that comes along with having the crotch rot. People with herpes live in constant fear of others knowing it, sometimes becoming depressed, joining support groups, even contemplating freaking suicide. Of course we should all be worried about herpes. It's a disease!
But It Actually Came From ...
Back in 1975, Burroughs Wellcome developed a drug that helped herpes sufferers by relieving their symptoms. The good people at Wellcome had one problem, though: The world gave precisely zero fucks about their new drug.
"A little blue pill that doesn't make my dick hard? No thanks."
How is this possible, you ask? Didn't people have herpes back then? Well, the disease has been around for freaking ever -- 2,000 years, if we're going by the first time someone scratched his balls and then decided to make note of it on official record -- but the thing is that herpes, both oral and genital, was never really seen as anything more than a sore in an inconvenient place, no more embarrassing than a zit. Herpes was so insignificant that common medical textbooks of the day didn't even mention it. Hence, when people came down with sores on their mouth or down where the sun don't shine, they didn't think twice about it, not even realizing that these sores had a special name.
"I just covered up with a giant hippie bush and figured that was the end of it."
But then Burroughs Wellcome had a bright idea for how to market their drug for a disease nobody had heard of or cared about: They launched an ad campaign educating people about the difference between a normal cold sore and a "stigmatized genital infection," which would make others treat you as if you had come down with a case of radioactive crotch.
The ads worked wonders. People with herpes felt (and to this day continue to feel) ashamed that they'd come down with it. They bought the drug in droves -- a drug which, by the way, obviously did not cure herpes. Burroughs Wellcome thus came to invent what's known today as "disease mongering," which is basically making you feel like a social dipshit because of a common physical illness -- sadly, a move that likely doesn't even break the top five list of douchiest moves by pharmaceutical companies.
"We're renaming acne 'deathface murderplague.' That should do the trick."
#3. Convincing Women to Shave Their Legs and Armpits
Even for your average non-bearded lady, shaving is a torturous task: It's time-consuming; you've got to cover, like, 30 times the surface area of your average guy's face; and that shit grows back so fast, you'd swear someone swapped your shower gel with Miracle-Gro. There aren't even any real benefits -- it's not like shaggy leg syndrome is a health risk or something. But you do it because ... wait, do we really even need to provide a "because" here? Seriously, hairy pits and legs on a woman? Come on.
"If only I could remove my legs and arms altogether."
But It Actually Came From ...
We've previously talked about how razors are pointlessly high-tech, but in reality, women's razors are just plain pointless. Beauty books and catalogs from the pre-World War I era clearly show that the majority of American women at the time didn't give two shits about underarm or leg hair.
Flavor country, circa 1913.
Shortly after World War I, however, advertisers suddenly started pretending that a hairless body was an established desire for women. These advertisements didn't explain why women should remove hair, they just offered them a product for doing so, therefore suggesting that a market for said product already existed. And women snapped that stuff up like candy -- abrasive, irritating, skin-raking candy. Of course, one need only consider that most women to this day use much of the time spent scraping the flesh off of their legs actively cursing the fact that such a market exists to see that those old-timey advertisers were full of shit.
"Don Draper can suck it."
There were a handful of upper-class women with a desire to remove superfluous hair on the face, but no one had any desire whatsoever to remove the hair from their armpits or legs, especially considering the fact that the fashions of the day didn't generally bare much skin. But that all changed when advertisements such as the Milady Decollete Gillette page in Harper's Bazaar showed a woman with hairless armpits. These advertisements, which collectively have been awesomely dubbed "The Great Underarm Campaign," are what you guys can thank for your smooth female companions, and what you ladies can thank for the only self-harm habit that won't have your loved ones booting you off to a psychiatrist.