Life Through Commercials

Life Lesson #1 - The More Complex you Make it, The More You Look Like You Know What You are Talking About

Secret's 5 Reasons

I’m certain you’ve seen that Secret antiperspirant commercial, the one with the brunette flashing her armpits since, as she claims, she uses Secret for these five “good reasons:”

1. Giving high-five to a complete stranger;
2. Saluting a doorman in a military fashion;
3. Hailing a cab then telling the driver she’d prefer walking;
4. Raising hands and shouting “I’m innocent,” to cops, then leaving;
5. Throwing a piece of garbage in a can and almost hit someone.

Pretty silly when you think about it; for instance, 3 above cannot possibly be a valid reason for anyone to chose one brand of antiperspirant over another, yet, simply put, these are the five reasons she mentions to us.
After a good look at each of the five above, it is easy to see that they are all variants of just one ‘reason’ i.e. creating situations that call for exposing one’s armpits. Is that really the reason why we buy antiperspirant? As there really been a moment when someone somewhere said something along the lines of, “Oh dear! I’m out of antiperspirant! I won’t be able to bother members of the police force or salute my doorman today?” Well, I concede; there probably has, but for the sake of argument…

So can we really consider those five statements above to be ‘reasons’ per se or are they not simply behaviors motivated by certain goals which in turn can be viewed as reasons?

To demonstrate what I am trying to say, I will use the following example: a bird zooms for your head; you flap your arms and run away.
Now, a bird in the sky is definitely not a reason to scamper, it’s a perfectly natural place for birds to be, and a bird that attacks you could potentially be dangerous but, viewed as a temporally singular event, is a bird flying towards your head reason enough to hide and flee? It may seem like a ridiculous question but if you answered yes then you squarely aren’t a member of my religion (using terms that derive from the more popular religions, I’m an agnostic posing as a non-practicing atheist! Put into my words, I’m the exalted high priest, pope and christ of my own domain and affairs, thank you very much.)

So why is yes a no-no? Well, what if you’re positioned in a way that you don’t see the bird coming at you? What if you’re blind? What if something went terribly wrong with your 3 for 1 laser-surgery and you’ve got thick cotton patches taped over your eyes? The bird will still swoop down to give you a peck on the melon, but if you don’t speak birdalese and don’t have a clue that he is preparing to do so, chances are you won’t flail your arms and start running until after he’s whopped you in the head. Therefore, it can be deduced that the reaction (and not action – the distinction is important) to an external event is dependant on sensory input and not solely on the occurrence of the action.
Otherwise, if ‘bird flying towards head’ is a reason for acting a particular way, what is the distinguishing factor that makes ‘three birds flying towards head’ an even more valid reason? The occurrence ‘Bird’ could be replaced by ‘brick’ and your reaction would be the same. However, replacing “bird’ with ‘fluff ball’ will produce different results; this is an important distinction.
So, by Occams Razor, since it is logically easier to write a rule to account for constants rather than for variables, this is the initial approach that should be applied. Other than ‘you,’ the necessary operand in this equation without whom birds and bricks are flying unhindered, the only other constant is one that we impose on this formula, the solution, so that we may investigate and solve the elements that are unknown but which result in our solution, the act of cowering and running. Outside of Jeopardy, an answer can’t also be the reason to itself, and since the sum of ‘you’ plus the variable ‘flying object’ does not always produce the same result (e.g. with fluff ball), it becomes very clear that we are missing another constant to account for the condition making the sum of ‘you’ plus ‘flying object’ always equal to “run for you life.” Consequently, this element must also be the inherited result of ‘you’ and ‘flying object.’
What I’m getting at is that the real culprit behind your hiding and running is fear – you are afraid to get hurt, so you hide and run. If all you’ve had are bricks thrown at your head all your life then I’d be willing to bet my neighbor’s house that you’d react the same way if I were to hurl a fluff ball at your head – scamper and run… But, experiencing the fluffy-ness of the fluff ball could also have negative effects as I could decide to toy with you and pitch a brick disguised as a fluff ball (the ol’ reverse of that sponge brick gag).

So what’s the point of all of this? After all, wasn’t this meant to be an entry about that goofy Secret commercial and those five reasons to flash, sniff, and caress your armpit while strolling through the city…
Yes, and it still is. It’s just that I’ve heard and read tons of negative comments on this add and all the articles I came across were pretty empty, and just ragged on about “how stupid” the commercial was because of those 5 reasons I mentioned at the beginning. You have to keep in mind the incredible sum of dollars invested to produce such an ad, which includes the ten’s of thousands paid to marketing research companies to present the campaign to focus groups, etc. Also, since I received 3 emails asking me what I thought about it, rather than simply hop on the bandwagon (something I’m rarely prone to do), I felt I was going to have to go beyond the obvious in order to produce something of interest, and also to explain why, despite the fact that I myself find their current ad concept asinine, I always tend to watch it in its entirety and I am always left smiling, although I may hide it, by the end of the commercial.

So all that prior talk about birds, bricks, and heads was just to frame my approach so you may have a better handle on the conclusions I will draw and why I think most people have missed the mark in their analysis of this ad.

By adopting the point of view I outline above, it is now possible to arrive at a different interpretation of those five reasons and thusly reduce those five actions to motivators or goals that are meant to justify (i.e. give reason to) the actions themselves. I derive the following:

1. tease 2. annoy 3. piss off 4. taunt 5. disturb

Still not good reasons to buy antiperspirant?
I will not delve into the subject of dominance roles and power-based relations as I’ll assume that everyone can see why these five modes of conduct usually manifest themselves as attempts to assert or divert power within a relationship or group. If you agree with this then you must invariably accept that the underlying ‘reason’ driving such goals can only be fear…

I can hear your groans through my modem, saying things like, “teasing someone doesn’t have to be negative if done in a ‘cute’ way; and it’s often a good ice-breaker to meet new friends and potential dates. So where the f*** does fear figure into this?”

To that I say, “What do you think dating is all about; it’s about sex and establishing power positions, through sex, during sex and for the next round of sex. But watch out, once those positions are established and each one’s dominance level is recognized, the sex slowly disappears... This is usually after a few months into the relationship and immediately after marriage since the roles aren’t only understood, they’re black on white and legally binding!

But let’s go back to the subject of fear. As an aside, as I’ll devote an entire entry to this in the near future, I firmly believe that absolutely all human behavior and actions can be explained as a reaction to fear. Yes, everything… power and greed also. I’m not trying to make my analysis of this commercial conform to my point of view or use it as an example hoping to convert you, but it can’t be denied that all, except perhaps the last of the 5 ‘reasons’ shown to us, are all about asserting power. So it seems clear to me that what we are seeing are different situations wherein the woman asserts power through non-threatening yet sexually charged methods. Don’t forget that two of the men involved act as pseudo-authority figures, doorman and taxi driver (which she hails, to have him at her servitude…) and two cops, which are clear authority figures.
So the message told is: don’t let your fears dominate, use feminine guile to assert your place amongst men.

In the end, this is just another, but not so banal, example of a company using a sense of security to sell a product. She’s in a bustling metropolis (New York comes to mind; there may even be visual references but I don’t think I caught them) and rather than feeling frightened and defenseless, she’s cool (and dry and fresh and damn cute), and smiles and saunters amidst a rushed crowd – composed primarily of men – in which she is totally at ease with the idea of taking on vulnerable poses in a thin tank top. This is where I’d get confused when I started thinking about this ad. I had originally thought that the ad, despite the targeted market, had been ill-conceived by men who still held the antiquated belief that real men still had a say in the choice of products that entered the home. I just couldn’t make sense of the ad as I couldn’t believe it had actually been geared towards women. At first glance there aren’t any real elements which you’d readily associate with a feminine hygiene product other than a really cute and clearly clean woman.

Then I reasoned that the text was just pointless dribble; it was there solely to fill space and so hardly any time had been devoted to its creation. The entire focus was meant to be on the girl; the old adage that a pleasant face, smile and body, especially feminine, always sells. Then I thought about those studies proving that women tend to favor being served by other women in stores and restaurants, etc., and generally pay more attention when the voice on the PA or in-car navigation system, etc., is female, whether live or electronic.
So my early conclusions led me to put this ad in the same category as that Tic-Tac girl. That breath of cool minty air being sucked in through delicious lips as she gazes into my eyes…uh…I mean, gazes into the camera with those stunningly deep hazel-colored, Oreo sized eyes. That inhale was such a success 4 years ago that Tic-Tac has barely changed the concept or the girl since then. And what warm-blooded, testosterone filled, women-obsessed male (i.e. heterosexual male free of most pathological problems) doesn’t get flashbacks of that commercial each time he witnesses someone sucking in air through puckered lips, irregardless of whether it’s his mechanic or his grandmother performing the action? I may even have fantasized about her on several occasions (note to myself: make sure I edit this out of the final version).

But no, after having rationalized the elements as I so describe since the beginning, I conclude that it really is geared towards women, with the side affect that guys certainly won’t mind the girl, and that the text is intended to be for our brain and not for our ears; it unconsciously forces viewers to tag each behavior so the brain can assign an emotion/reaction to each more efficiently. Yet, because each ‘reason’ is actually synthetic in character since the woman instigates or causes the events prompting her to expose her armpits, this ad differs from the majority given that the sense of security being instilled is one of empowerment. A slightly more refined version of the message that this ad is sending: don’t let your fears and gender control you, you can control every situation (if you buy this antiperspirant).

As a guy what does this mean for me? That I actually can get excited by some of the things that are on TV besides The Simpsons!

Now, where’s that tube of mayonnaise? What?! I’m on a tight budget! Have you seen the price of Vaseline these days? Helloooo! Petroleum jelly…

Keep on clicking!


© Pascal-Denis Lussier 2008

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