Lifebuoy - Slinker and stinker.

You stink. If not now, then you will soon. We owe a debt of gratitude to marketing for teaching us that we stink, and we need to buy their product to fix it. Lifebuoy was - is! -  a soap company that, when I first heard of them, I thought was called "Life Boy". More on that later. Here's the dramatic ad from 1935.

Life Buoy is careful to make clear in the very first panel that they are married. As we read on, it becomes obvious that the only reason Wife didn't marry that other loser is because he stank. Soon, we learn that if you stink, you can't smell your own stink. The happy ending is a relationship based on the bedrock of not stinking. Surely their love will stand the test of time...

"Oh, darling. Do you remember that marvelous evening we spent sipping champagne under the lights of the Eiffel Tower? It was ever so non-smelly! Truly it was!"

"How could I forget? Just as I cannot forget the week we spent in that quaint villa in Mallorca with your parents. The sands were so odor-free. I could hardly believe the lack of stink. It was grand. The gulls were especially odorless as they danced above the sparkling water."

"My love, let's never have an odor! Never ever!"

"Oh, we shan't, my dear. Never a whiff. To this I pledge."

To sum up, the message of the ad is this:
1) If you stink, you won't know it.
2) If you stink, you will never find love.
3) Unless you use Life Buoy, items 1 and 2 are certain. So, be constantly afraid of them and use Life Buoy.

When A Christmas Story appeared on HBO in 1982, I had never seen anything so funny before, (except for maybe Monty Python, and Mom would have flipped if she found out my brother let me watch it with him). A Christmas Story was the first time I had ever heard of Life Buoy soap, and the auto-correct in my young brain made it into "Life Boy". Why would I hear it differently? I did know what a "buoy" was, but the circular flotation device you throw to a drowning person was a thing I understood to be a "life preserver". A "buoy" was floating marker weighing hundreds of pounds, with a bell and maybe a light on it that you find tethered in a harbor or something. I had no idea what a "life buoy" was. In my mind, if you threw a buoy at a person who fell overboard, you would stand a good chance of killing them. Also, in the movie, narrator Gene Shepherd (from Indiana) pronounced the phrase exactly like "life boy", while my Chicagoan family pronounced the word more like "boo-wee".

There's a fairly great podcast produced by the CBC (Canadian broadcasting Company) called Under the Influence. It's written and hosted by Terry O'Reilly, an actual ad man of many years. He did an episode on "the marketing of shame", and how shame is a thing that sort of doesn't exist any more. This episode covers the invention of "B.O." in the 1800s. It's really interesting. He even uses a Life Buoy ad as the thumbnail for the episode.

One of the things from one of my former relationships that I recall with some degree of pride is that my ex-girlfriend (at the time, just my "girlfriend") once told me that she had never smelled my B.O. Apparently, I never stank. Hooray for preventative shame. At least I got that right.

Click for big.


Post a Comment