Toothpaste and a story by Marcello Marchesi

Poster dentifrici - toothpaste poster

Stomol, "Ideal Toothpaste", 1937

Toothpaste and advertisement: here is a series of posters from the early 1900s, that we are happy to complement with a fun short story from “Il malloppo” (Bompiani, Milan 1971), by Milan-born writer, playwright, director and actor (1918-1972) Marcello Marchesi:

“I was at a meeting. It was about a new toothpaste that had no particular quality, and therefore had to be marketed as an elegant toothpaste for elegant people. High price. Deluxe packaging. No contest. A poster with Him in a tuxed and Her in an evening gown. From the window, a fox hunt in the distance. In the foreground, silver candelabra. Somewhere in the room, a red velvet curtain. Someone suggested ‘Dental Cream pour l’élite’. But no foreign copy: the target audience was elegant but illiterate. We landed on ‘The toothpaste most loved by those who want the most’, after discarding ‘The toothpaste demanded by demanding clients’ – too many demands. The usual account executive suggested ‘The toothpaste that sets you apart’. He always suggested the same slogan – ‘The washing machine that sets you apart’, ‘The razor that sets you apart’ – for every single product, making no distinction. I had the winning idea in my bag but was waiting for the right moment. To get our creative juices going, they had us taste the toothpaste.”

“They squeezed little white caterpillars on little plates, and we took some with our finger and put a drop of it on our tongues. It tasted like toothpaste. But like toothpaste when you are suddenly left without water, and it clumps up, and foam turns into a thick sludge on your lips, like a clown. Then the competitors’ toothpastes arrived. We had to taste all of them. After three hours, our mouths tasted like temporary fillings, our tongues were made of velvet, our breath smelled like medicine. I got up and could barely speak, because my tongue was like a raspberry. I said, ‘Gelmen, dis ’s my plopofal’. And instead of my slogan – ‘A noble toothpaste for a noble smile’ – I presented a love poem Lis had written for me, and had slipped between my cards when I wasn’t looking. It was a naïf elaboration on Neruda. And right below, there was an obscene little sketch captioned with ‘you and me’. Everyone in the room was perplexed for a moment. But then I had a brilliant idea that saved me. I said that was just the general concept, but the only one that could bring to a positive result: Him and Her had to be naked. With a beaming tube of toothpaste between them. Across the image, the slogan ‘You and me, with him’. Everyone applauded. The idea was approved unanimously. And that is how nudity in advertisement began.”

June 7, 2017