Let’s Make Oralcare Interesting…


Our dreams use metaphors to help our subconscious make sense of the modern world’s fractured, confusing stimulus. And it’s amazing how often our subconscious uses teeth as symbolism for our emotions: tensions like transition, insecurity and loss are played out through metaphors of our teeth breaking, rotting or disappearing…

It’s a reminder of how unconsciously important our teeth are to us.

Unlike the way we use our hands, our minds or most of our digestive organs; the way we use our teeth has hardly changed in 200,000 years of human evolution: Sharp ones at the front for cutting, pointy ones at the side for tearing and thick, powerful ones at the back for crushing and grinding… It’s a pretty reptilian toolkit.

And yet at some point Oralcare Marketeers decided that their brands should bypass system one considerations and speak directly to the consumer’s most considered and analytical brain.

Britain’s first ever television commercial appeared in 1955. It was an ad for Gibbs SR Toothpaste. It set out to tell a simple story: that Gibbs SR contained a special ingredient that was proven to be good for the gums.

Storytelling devices? Mysterious graphs with different sized stacks of squares gradually appearing; a lump of something (a disembodied tooth?) gradually suspended into a scientific glass dish containing a substance that was later revealed to be something called ‘Sodium Ricinoleate Solution’.

Then the viewer got a list of benefits like “keeps your teeth white, your gums healthy, your breath really fresh”. Oh – and then a description of what Sodium Ricinoleate Solution was and why it was a good thing for gums (which, by the way, was later discovered not to be true).

…And yes, it was a bloody long advertisement. Seventy seconds long, in fact.

And according to The Daily Telegraph the spot ‘didn’t make a great deal of impact’ on the brand’s sales.


And yet today consumers still get force-fed the graphs, the overwhelming descriptions of scientific ingredients and the paranoid me-too lists of the same old benefits. Isn’t it ironic that a category with such a tight link to freshness is so reluctant to actually produce anything fresh? And all the while, consumers are screaming at the category to show them something better:

  • They’re shopping the category with a touch of contempt: half of trips in toothpaste feature a promotional purchase, and almost always (c.80%) from one of the biggest four brands.
  • Shoppers of the Oralcare category consider ‘having innovative formulas’ less important to more tactile emotional experiences such as superior taste or a feeling of cleanliness and freshness in the mouth.
  • Verbatims: “It’s samey, boring, I’ve seen it a hundred times before” / “There’s no differentiating between brands” / “[Their science is] not credible – it’s over-claiming”

 It’s almost like we didn’t learn anything from Gibbs SR’s plodding seventy seconds of self-indulgent science.

We thought: it’s time for Marketeers to stop and unwind some of the self-deception that has dogged the category for more than 60 years; for a brave brand to peel away some layers and change the record and plant a flag in the ground for making Oralcare interesting again.

So that’s exactly what we set out to do with Arm & Hammer.

We started with a provocative truth about Oralcare products.
That doubled as a call-to-action.
And trebled as a campaign idea:



It’s a call to arms for the smashing of boring routines. It’s a celebration of discovery, curiosity & positive choices.

Ford Escorts are ok. Ready Salted Crisps are ok. Caravan Holidays in Bognor Regis are ok. Aeroplane food is ok. Rich Tea Biscuits are ok. Boiled Broccoli is ok… and your toothpaste is ok. And there’s nothing wrong with ok; but some of us prefer exceptional.

It’s a disruption of boredom and an altogether more intense experience than regular Oralcare… most importantly; it’s an announcement that not all Oralcare is equal. We brought the message to life through our very own Arm & Hammer Life Coach. She burst into the media landscape and offered up some no-nonsense tongue-in-cheek ‘real talk’ to our sleepwalking consumer.


Shortly after the campaign went live on TV, Video-on-demand, Digital Outdoor and Social Media, Arm & Hammer’s Advance White product sold out of stock in a number of UK stores.

Bath 2

Now, doesn’t that feel better?

Royston Reeves

Royston Reeves

Strategy Director