Monday, November 28

the toothpaste commercial smile

I don’t know if it’s my usual scepticism or if it’s the commercial that truly sucks. What I’m talking about is this TV advertisement for a popular toothpaste brand. Yes, that one with a guy loading a bus, with an all-American smile. See? You know the loser.

Wait a sec, let me clear one thing first. Numero uno, I think the song played in that particular commercial is cool. But hey, isn’t it irritating to hear it from a 30-seconder showing a “cute” or pa-cute guy grinning nonstop? Oh come on, what’s the point?

The advertisement is with no doubt an exaggeration. I understand that’s the part of the trick: the purpose of every toothpaste commercial is to make the consumers buy the toothpaste. So they use this basic formula: they have to show you a cute guy and girl in the mall, at the beach, on the bus – doesn’t really matter where (but the more public the place is, the better). They keep staring at each other with their love-stricken smiles showing off their extra-white teeth. And by the way, these two cuties don’t know each other yet – and they just “accidentally” bumped, or the caught the falling girl or the other way around. In short, they just met.

This ‘school’ of exaggerated toothpaste commercials insults me. They commercialize a certain breed of hypocrisy that is paired with superficiality. They teach you to smile to a complete stranger, in the most uncommon of circumstances. They tell you to “just smile”.

Smiling is a physiological and psychological phenomenon. According to research (you read that right, there actually are researches on smiling), a smile is drawn when facial muscles are moved, especially the zygmomaticus muscle near the mouth and the orbicularis oculi muscle near the eyes. This is said to be physiologically genuine, named the “Duchenne” smile after researcher Guillaume Duchenne, because this smile is only produced as an involuntary response to true emotion.

A Duchenne smile in a toothpaste commercial? I don’t think so.

There is also what researchers call the “Pan American” smile, which is said to be voluntary. It is named as such because it shows politeness, for example, by a flight attendant of an airline of the same name. Research says this is an insincere smile because only the zygmomaticus major is moved when you sport it, and that it is done because it has to be.

A polite smile, yes. In a toothpaste commercial? Not what I’m talking about.

I looked and looked for any comprehensive identification of the type of smile I see in toothpaste commercials and I find nothing. Perhaps this smile is still unnamed. So please let me call it the “Toothpaste Commercial Smile”. What makes it unique? You just have to open your mouth and bare your clean, white teeth to everybody in the hopes of someone noticing and getting it on with you tonight. Being true to emotion and being polite are totally unnecessary.

Smiling, whether genuine or for politeness’ sake or for a toothpaste commercial, is supposedly beneficial. Remember that aphorism that a smile requires less facial muscles to move than a frown? How about your guidance counselor telling you how a smile can pre-introduce your positive personality? Have you by any chance heard a study conducted in Sweden concluding that a smile is contagious? That a smile is answered with a smile? That when you put a happy face, you also put up an air of happiness around you?

But I am a sceptic. I suspect that a smile might be from a toothpaste commercial, from being hypocritical and superficial. And especially when it’s from someone I don’t know and who just happens to sit beside me on a bus.

These TV advertisements showing us that we can actually smile “whenever, wherever” are annoying. But what’s frustrating is the cumulative effect this hypocrisy and superficiality has on us. They eventually influence us into showing off a “killer confidence smile” to practically everybody in the public.

If it’s true that smiling makes you feel happier, then do it, for crying out loud. Make other people smile back, even if you don’t know them. But don’t overdo it. And don’t do it at all, if you aren’t happy or glad or amused or pleased. Or else, you’ll end up in a toothpaste commercial.

Hey wait; now that’s one good reason to smile.

(This essay was published in the Wesneco Torch November 2005 Magazine)

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