Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Sweet Sweat: Part I - Liquid Gold

Wife:  My eyebrows are sweating.
Me:  What??
Wife:  It's so hot my eyebrows are sweating. They always do.
Me:  What?

Male readers who have been married for a while will recognize this is a time to shut up.  The correct response, if any, is to acknowledge the discomfort and then quickly move on.  However, I made not only one mistake but two.  First, I denied that it was particularly hot.  Then I questioned whether eyebrows were a normal place to sweat.

My penance was to do some research into the topic of perspiration and possible differences among people in where and when they sweat.  I found that there is a wealth of information about this topic, and to someone as warped as me it turned out to be very interesting. There was so much material that rather than share it in one long blog I've decided to torture you with two shorter installments.  Here goes.  Oh, and be patient -- we'll eventually get to that eyebrow thing....

"Horses Sweat, Men Perspire, 
                  But Ladies Merely Glow......"

This Victorian-Era euphemism captured the view in the early 1900's toward perspiration -- a gross aspect of animal nature, found in restrained and diminished form in male humans and quite incompatible with the ethereal sensibilities of Victorian gentlewomen. This idea now seems rather quaint, given the more accurate perceptions available to us in coed fitness centers and in athletic venues.  Men and women sweat, not just horses.

Although we may have a somewhat more realistic view of perspiration these days, we are still quite ambivalent about it, as indicated by the lucrative $3 billion a year deodorant and anti-antiperspirant industry in the U.S. (Euromonitor Marketing Research Report, 2014).  We know we sweat but we pay a lot of money not to do so, and we pay to make sure we don't stink even if we do.  The fact that perspiration and odor are big business should make us suspicious that at to least some degree our attitudes might be the result of Madison Avenue manipulation.  A recent article by Sarah Everets published in the venerable Smithsonian Magazine offers considerable evidence that this is correct:
"In the 1910s deodorants and antiperspirants were relatively new inventions. The first deodorant, which kills odor-producing bacteria, was called Mum and had been trademarked in 1888, while the first antiperspirant, which thwarts both sweat-production and bacterial growth, was called Everdry and launched in 1903.  But many people—if they had even heard of the anti-sweat toiletries—thought they were unnecessary, unhealthy or both." (Everets, 2012).
What do you do if you have a product that people don't perceive they have a need for, and even regard it negatively?  The answer is that you create a market for the product by convincing people they really do need it, and that it is perfectly safe.  The first advertising campaign for anti-antiperspirants began in 1912, designed by James Young, a copy writer for a New York advertising agency and former traveling Bible salesman.  Directed at women, the campaign promoted a product named Odorono, stressing its healthfulness and also suggesting that perspiration was a problem needing to be solved:
"Young’s early Odorono advertisements focused on trying to combat a commonly held belief that blocking perspiration was unhealthy. The copy pointed out that Odorono (occasionally written Odo-ro-no) had been developed by a doctor and it presented “excessive perspiration” as an embarrassing medical ailment in need of a remedy." (Everets, 2012)
The campaign worked -- sort of.  The sales of Odorono jumped initially but flattened out after a few years.  It seems that while the campaign led many women to be familiar with the product, 2/3 still didn't think there was a need for it.  Young switched to what has become a time-honored way for advertisers to manipulate perceived need --- focus on fear of social embarrassment that the product can take away.  Here's a sample of Young's 1919 sales pitch for Odorono in Ladies Home Journal: "A woman’s arm! Poets have sung of it, great artists have painted its beauty. It should be the daintiest, sweetest thing in the world. And yet, unfortunately, it’s isn’t always." The advertisement went on to explain that women may be stinky and offensive, and they might not even know it.  "The take-home message was clear: If you want to keep a man, you’d better not smell" (Everets, 2012).   Although the ad was considered offensive by many readers because it dealt with a socially taboo topic, Odorono sales jumped 112 percent by the next year.

Other companies copied the Odorono marketing approach and over the years the ads became much bolder.  A particularly blunt example is a 1937 advertisement for Mum (now Ban):
"You’re a pretty girl, Mary, and you’re smart about most things but you’re just a bit stupid about yourself. You love a good time—but you seldom have one. Evening after evening you sit at home alone. You’ve met several grand men who seemed interested at first. They took you out once—and that was that. There are so many pretty Marys in the world who never seem to sense the real reason for their aloneness. In this smart modern age, it’s against the code for a girl (or a man either) to carry the repellent odor of underarm perspiration on clothing and person. It’s a fault which never fails to carry its own punishment—unpopularity."  (Everets, 2012)
Campaigns to convince men that they needed these products began in 1935, with the introduction of the first deodorant for men called Top-Flite.  These ads, too, focused on insecurities -- in this case of men trying to obtain and keep depression-era jobs.  But why was there a 20-year delay in developing and pitching these products to men? Could it be that men don't sweat as much as women or that they stink less?  Doubtful. The more likely reason is that advertisers viewed women as more likely to adopt these products because our society had primed them to respond to a fear-based pitch that emphasized the possibility of social rejection.  The insecurities of the Great Depression changed men's attitudes and made them more susceptible to a fear-based appeal for a product that promised to make them more successful in white-collar jobs -- thus opening a huge new market for deodorant products (Everets, 2012). Ads stressed how lack of personal grooming could ruin a career and threaten a man's role as successful family provider, as well as his general "macho" attractiveness to women, by being unknowingly stinky at the office.

Of course, the advertisers first had to go to great lengths to disassociate the male version of the product from the female version, even though the active ingredients and their strengths were exactly the same. Thus the name "Top-Flite," a clear reference to the game of golf, which at that time was seen as a "man's" game. Other strategies included using containers in the shape of whiskey jugs and blocky black bottles and incorporating scents like "leather," "pine," and "old spice." 

So, are the advertisers right, are we humans naturally drippy, stinky creatures?  Is perspiration the nemesis of advanced civilization?  Do men sweat more than women? Do eyebrows really sweat?  Answers to these and other questions will be in Part 2:  "Don't Ever Let Them See You Sweat"


Coleen Hanna said...

Dick, leave it to you to make a topic interesting. And this is one topic I didn't think I would find interesting. But after reading what you have to say, I am looking forward to the next piece.

Is it Odorono or Ordorono? You have it spelled both ways in your piece. I would guess it's the former.

I go to a church in the city, and a light dinner is included. They serve foods such as mac and cheese, Spanish rice, quiche, etc and include a salad and cookies. The service begins right after dinner, in the same meeting room. As you might expect, some homeless people attend. They smell. I don't like the smell but I get used to it. I wonder if it is sweat or just a general dirtiness from not taking showers. It doesn't matter, but it does make me wonder--would Odorno help? Or should I wear so much perfume that I can't smell them? Maybe your next installment will help me with these questions.

Richard Sherman said...

Thanks Coleen -- I think I've fixed all the typos. It's Odorono. The product is still sold but may not be the most effective one available. In my research I found reference to Clinical Strength Secret, which controls odor by trapping it with doughnut-shaped molecules. Isn't science great!

Stay tuned -- most if not all of your questions will be answered in Part 2.