Last updated 9 months ago
In the 1920’s, a friend approached Claude C. Hopkins, with a new product. It was a tooth paste called Pepsodent. Hopkins, a scion of advertising, was earning $185,000 in 1907. I don’t know if he had a Mad Men lifestyle. He lived until the ripe old age of 66. Hopkins and Pepsodent would change America’s dental habits for good.
Hopkins required that his copywriters learn in depth about the products. A good product will sell itself. First, there has to be a reason to buy it. Short, accurate copy comes from writers who understand the product. Hopkins learned from reading dental textbooks about the gooey, germy plaque that accumulates on teeth. He renamed it "film."
Pepsodent’s mint flavor was from Sassafras. Pepsodent was also formulated with sodium laurel sulfate, which Hopkins renamed, “Irium." Irium was responsible for the unique mouth tingle after brushing.
Way ahead of his time, Hopkins used a Cue-Reward loop to market Pepsodent. Inform the subject he has Film, provide a strong tingle when he is done removing it. Later, neuroscientists recognized this behavioral loop: Cue (Filmy Teeth)- Action (Brush)- Reward (Minty Tingle).
Hopkins used a scientific approach to advertising. He insisted that all efforts to promote a product must be measurable. He used coded coupons to tell which approach the public responded best to. Free samples, ads, jingles, celebrity endorsements, and cartoons took Pepsodent to the top of the charts.
Competing brands of toothpaste took ten years to figure out that it was the concern about unhealthy, unattractive film that motivated Pepsodent users, and it was the Minty Tingle that kept them coming back. American men learned to brush their teeth while serving during WWII. They brought the habit home. In the 1949 musical, ‘South Pacific’, the sailors sing about a Philippine woman, “Bloody Mary’s chewing betel nuts/And she don’t use Pepsodent.” The great Cole Porter in ‘You’re The Top’ sings, “You’re an old Dutch master, you’re Mrs. Astor, you’re Pepsodent, Baby you’re the top!”
The Pepsodent smile was every bit as eponymous as Kleenex. Radio personality Arthur Godfrey referred to his”Pepsodent Smile," as did many other entertainers.
Postwar appeals to health included verbiage such as, “You Men Owe to yourselves these whiter teeth.” The appeal to mothers of the baby boom was, “To give him sound teeth when he grows up- Guard Precious Whiteness NOW!”
In the 1950’s, competing brands caught onto fluoride. Without the vision of Hopkins, Pepsodent was slow to incorporate fluoride into their formulation.
Even while the Pepsodent brand faded, the tooth brushing habit remained with us. We all owe some thanks to Claude C. Hopkins, the advertising man that said “I resolved to advertise this toothpaste as a creator of beauty.” The slogan, ‘You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent” survived decades in the public lexicon.
Indeed Hopkins did us better than Rodney Dangerfield’s Doctor Vinnie Gumbache: “I said, Doctor, my teeth are turning yellow.” “No problem he says, wear a brown tie.”
Dr. Jim Nager, of Belmont Dental Group
, is a practicing dentist and resident of Belmont, and a Clinical Instructor at Harvard. Questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (617) 484-2431.