Last year while my husband and I were vacationing with another couple, I had one of those vicarious déjà vu moments. My friend, her husband and I were waiting for an elevator, and as it opened, I smelled something sulfurous, reminiscent of a diesel engine. Although it smelled vaguely of machinery to me, as the elevator doors closed, my friend looked at her husband and accused, “Something doesn’t smell good. Is that you?” I laughed out loud, because while I thought the smell was emitted from something on our ship, I could imagine saying the same thing to my husband.
Smells matter, especially for women. One study revealed that women ranked pleasant body odor in a mate as more important than even physical attraction. The research is mixed–it’s unclear whether we are drawn subconsciously to people with appealing pheromones or with excellent taste in chemicals that mask unappealing body odor. Regardless, it is obvious that we are drawn to those who smell good to us.
The importance of deodorant/anti-perspirant* became a theme of my recent family vacation. While standing in an amusement park line in Florida with my face melting off, my 16-year-old son casually announced that he forgot to put on deodorant that morning. “Really? You wait until we are visiting a park with the temperature of Hades to forget deodorant? Okay, you are hereby sentenced to walk at least ten paces behind me for the rest of the day,” I warned. “I am not kidding. You know about my highly-developed sense of smell.” I am lacking in many areas, but my husband has been known to call me “the nose,” because I can smell noxious odors that no one else seems to notice.
Later that evening, after my husband announced that he was almost completely out of deodorant, I went to the store to stock up, in an act of self-preservation. A visit that should have taken 5 minutes took 25, because I was captivated by the array of options.
“Hmm,” I thought to myself, spinning out in consumer overload, “Do I want to feel like I’m married to a Greek god or Michael Jordan? Someone with OCD/clinical cleanliness perhaps? Robocop? Paul Bunyan? Popeye? A ruthless dictator? A CEO with a lot of cash? Or the ever-entertaining Bozo the Clown?” The siren call of options sparkled with an implicit guarantee of life change. “Something big is going to happen as soon as he puts on this deodorant, I just know it,” I mused.
Old Spice has a clear market lead in choices with creative and amusing titles. How was I expected to decide between Steel Courage and Stronger Swagger? “Let’s see— will Steel Courage increase my husband’s tensile strength? Must my husband already possess swagger to add more? If not, is there a remedial option for beginning swaggerers? Oh—there—the unembellished Swagger—‘the scent of confidence, which happens to smell like lime and cedarwood.’ What? I’m 51 and I’m just barely finding out that the scent of confidence smells like lime and cedarwood?” Then, I gazed upon Ambassador and thought, “Nope. I can’t take that much ego. He’ll expect me to call him ‘Mr. Ambassador,’ while bringing him his slippers.”
And that is just the opener for the mental gymnastics I faced in the deodorant aisle.
Old Spice’s website contains intriguing if hyperbolic promises for using their products. For example, High Endurance Original Scent seems simple enough, but when “spiced up,” with the tagline, “boosts your man-smell and prepares you for success,” I had to wonder, “Are those presumptively related? Can it determine which ‘man-smell,’ needs enhancing? My husband has several ‘man-smells,’ some of which certainly don’t need boosting.”
Curiously, Citron is the scent that “traps your armpits in a whirlwind of zesty lime, leafy greans (and yes, it’s spelled that way on the website), and woman advances.” I definitely DON’T want my husband’s armpits “trapped in a whirlwind of woman advances,” so that choice was clearly out of the question. I was similarly wary of Nomad, because I did not want my husband wandering off unexpectedly in a paroxysm of adventure.
Then I encountered what appeared to be the “Geek Power” options—with labels appealing to video gamers as well as the motley crew of dungeons and dragons alumni.
Hawkridge is hawked with assurances to “outwit unsuspecting stink with its sandalwood and vanilla scent.” When did deodorant become the major player in a fantasy saga?
Bolder Bearglove left me scratching my head, but since it implies something I wouldn’t want to encounter alone in a forest, it must be powerful. The detailed specificity of Wolfthorn’s tagline was…odd…even for the gaming and DD crowd: “Wolfthorn is the sort of sophisticated wolf who wears a suit that has a suave, sweet orange scent.” Oh, come on! A wolf who wears a suit? They totally threw that in to see if anyone is paying attention.
And then I encountered the Elephant Man of deodorants. Krakengard. Really? For the partner who wants to feel bonded to a multi-tentacled cephalopod from the deep? It gets even weirder when you read the ubiquitous tagline on their website, “So easy to use you might accidentally put it on and only later realize your man-nificence.” Does that happen before or after the high-pitched shrieking one can expect when encountering a ginormous phlegm wad with legs?
Fiji, Denali and Timber Fresher seemed dull by comparison. How can I get excited about a soothing island adventure now that I’ve been offered the appeal of the Kraken? My consumer expectations suddenly exceeded the previously alluring possibility of olfactory transport to relaxing natural landscapes.
I’m certain that Old Spice has market research confirming that the more varieties they offer, the more deodorant people buy. They increased my purchase by 500% with their consumer complexity. I finally settled on Lasting Legend for obvious reasons. I also threw in the elegantly simple Extra Fresh, a few with “Sport” in the title and Desperado—which claims to emit a scent that is “unapologetically risky,” for my husband’s alter ego, or in case I wanted to feel like I was married to Butch Cassidy. I topped off the lot with Captain—the scent of command, for the sheer amusement of being able to answer my husband with, “Aye aye, Captain!” throughout the day, and randomly asking my son, within my husband’s earshot, “What do I smell? Is that the scent of command?”
“I am armed and ready,” I thought, “in this humid weather, Old Spice better deliver on its declaration to ‘overpower stink with good-smellingness.'” As a mother of five boys, I believe I have earned the right to be some kind of anti-perspirant goodwill ambassador. That’s “Mrs. Ambassador,” in case you were wondering.
I returned to the hotel and announced, “OK son, I just bought a deodorant for each of your father’s personalities. Pick one and apply liberally. Take a lesson from your father—he uses at least half a stick in one sitting.” It’s true. Some people brush their teeth for the length of a song—that’s how long it takes my husband to apply deodorant. He does always smell delicious though, so who am I to question his methods? I’m occasionally concerned that he has a repressed traumatic adolescent experience with B.O.—but don’t tell him I said so.
I couldn’t help but think about the possibilities of marketing a line of deodorant describing characteristics for the type of men women want to attach themselves to long-term…not an easy task considering the risk of compromising the delicate male ego’s investment in hardcore masculinity.
Here is my “Monogamous Line” for starters:
- Ferocious Fidelity—the scent of strength—and of not incurring a bludgeoning at the hands of your spouse
- Dad Bod—for the husband who has earned those love handles because he is playing with kids on the playground instead of visiting the gym
- Chore Warrior—the female aphrodisiac
- G-LORI-OUS—my own eponymous scent eliciting a chorus of angels and a feeling of ecstasy
- Jedi Mind Trick—Why YES, I DO remember that time when….thank you for reminding me again
- A-GREE Force—maximizing the physics of YES, DEAR
- Zestosterone—Be in the mood when she’s in the mood—to watch that romcom
- Diaper Slayer—take that, Evilpoopers!
- Egalitarian Edge—When a dual ego is greater than the sum of the parts
- Pied Piper—for the husband who isn’t afraid to be a dad
- Mind Reader—the scent of the intellectually advanced and conflict-free
- Kitchen Hound–for the man who wants to share your bed and remembers that doing the dishes includes wiping off the counters
- Ken Doll—the scent of high performance–in plastic
- Emotional Enthusiast–for men who can feel their full range of emotions and validate yours
- Sir Dependable Defender—because you have her back–ALWAYS
- Romantic Raconteur—rose petals not included
- Role Model—perfection in chemicals on a stick
- Yestosterone–For the man who agrees to agree
- Altruistic Archetype—scents and sensitivity
- 3-Point Laundry Shot—the scent of swoosh
- Dad Joke—the redheaded stepson of deodorants
- Philophile (No, not the love of Dr. Phil. Look it up!)
- Mythical Male Unicorn— a mystical blend of all the above
Or I could just cut to the chase and market a deodorant labeled Sex and Weight Loss, and become an instant millionare. Maybe even a gazillionaire if I add a little junk science, expensive essential oils and a Gothic font. Ho hum…I’m sure it has been done. If not, you’re welcome.
I picked up both of competitor Axe’s male and female versions of Anarchy, because the marriage therapist in me said, “I can totally build a date around this.” It’s in development. Stay tuned.
If you aren’t lucky enough to find deodorant containing the suggestive power of monogamy, at least stay away from Citron—those “woman advances,” are unpredictable. You do not want the hassle. The only person I want smelling my husband’s armpits is me.
*This blog post assumes the use of conventional grocery store deodorants, complete with suspect parabens, carcinogens, pesticides and myriad multisyllabic chemicals. Evaluating the controversy of using such products vs. crystals, hedgehog urine, cancer-free incantations or other such alternative juju is not within the scope of this blog post.
Human pheromones and sexual attraction (2005) by Karl Grammar, Bernhard Fink and Nick Weave. In Reproductive Biology, 118(2), 135-142.
Sex differences in response to physical and social factors involved in human mate selection: The importance of smell for women (2002), by Rachel S. Herz and Michael Inzlicht in Evolution and Human Behavior, 23(5), 359-364.
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