The Role of Shame in Toothpaste Marketing

This morning, on the road, I brushed my teeth with a travel toothbrush.  I had forgotten my toothpaste.  As I brushed, I could taste the toothpaste from past poor-rinsing.  I wondered how much fluoride I still had in the bristles, and whether the fluoride could be delivered without toothpaste more efficiently (as I brushed).

I'm a recycler.

(warning - this is one of those introverted self-effacing used toothbrush blog entries).

I thought on the one hand that we need to be proud of being economical.  Most of the problems today, I believe, are the result of evolutionary scrimping or gouging.
The problem is probably an evolutionary trigger to eat "when in doubt" (ancestors did not know when the next meal was coming), combined with convenience (we can eat faster than our bodies can tell us we are full, and we don't chase or grow the food). Probably the same root cause as high consumer debt.  At some point in evolution, people survived by gouging and borrowing.
That's from a comment I left on another philosopher's video blog this AM, showing where my mind is.

Anyway, as I thought about the hypothetical honor of saving.  Suppose I found that I could save half of the toothpaste I used in my life by skipping every other one.   I see my kids use 5 times as much toothpaste as I do anyway... I've even used what my kids spit out (in complete unused chunks) from the side of the sink.  They think I'm awful - and I'm the death of embarrassment now by writing about this on a public blog.

But what I'm focused on is the role of shame in marketing.   The church empires built themselves in part on shame.  The Priestatollahs use shame as a leverage to make people get marriage licenses, baptisms, and hold funerals.  It is not the baby or the deceased who insists on the blessing, it is either the family's true belief in the church's "system" of heaven, or it is the question of honor vs. shame.

Basel Action Network had a "Hall of Shame" which I've written about before.   Places like UNCTAD, and EPA were on it.  Not holy enough.  Organizations which disagreed with BAN on something.  I wholly agreed with UNCTAD, and agreed with EPA's CRT Decision, both of which BAN reacted to with their shame-stick.  The page is now "under construction", I hope it had something to do with my blog posts about it.  Shaming people who care about the environment because they have a different opinion than you, using photos of children, is really pretty close to McCarthyism.  But shame is also simply a tactic in selling all products... even something as mundane as toothpaste.

Now here I am, having rinsed my mouth from scrimping with toothpaste.  And I wonder what the toothpaste industry would say about my hypothesis, which is that brushing is definitely good, but that we could save billions of dollars if we used a little less toothpaste?

There are a lot of rationalizations... I'd never scold my kid for using too much toothpaste, because it interferes with my praise for them brushing their teeth.  But another parent may make that call differently - and if our family really lived like most families on the earth, we'd really have to think about our toothpaste budget, and as a father I'd have no choice but to scold my kid to ration the toothpaste.

The role of shame in marketing.   It's interesting.  There is some link between what BAN did to Intercon, and what the California cities did which pressured Sims branch to become E-Stewards, and the threat to shame a family which doesn't pay one of the three fees that supports the Religious Establishment.   There is a link to what BAN does to exporters, and "honor killing" of non-virgins.

Well, my kids would just say "gross!" that I wrote about my dried toothbrush this morning.  And I don't think they've been marketed to by Proctor and Gamble.  So maybe it's not marketing.  Maybe its a shame to be poor, or a shame to economize when you aren't poor.  They are not thrilled by the old CRT televisions I keep replacing in the living room, either.  But part of my message is that it's not a shame to economize if you donate to charity, or use the money for good.  It takes courage to stand up to the shame finger.  Let he who has never eaten, or brushed with, or imported from, or non-organically sourced something, cast the first stone.

What we need is an honest and open accounting of what things that we do matter, and what things don't matter.  A massive Genome Project of our recycling, toothbrushing, and sexual decisions.  We need a big think tank to reasses what's really important.  And it can't be a parent with 16 year old twins to shame.

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