Marketing “System” Ignites the Wrath of Mister B

A little over a decade ago, Mister Boomer took a trip back to his home state to visit family and friends. After landing at the airport, he made his way to the line at the car rental. When he got to the front of the line, he was within earshot of a boomer-aged woman at the counter situated in front of him. The car rental representative was wrapping things up, and asked the woman, “Do you want GPS with that?” The woman, without skipping a beat, replied, “No thanks, I have M-A-P.” Mister B likes retelling that story because he feels it speaks to the practicality of the Boomer Generation.

This story came to mind this week when Mister Boomer saw a commercial for a man’s “shaving system.” That’s correct, a shaving system. Here was a man, a manly man, deftly manhandling a device that looked more like it could slice, dice and make julienne fries than shave facial hair. His firm grip guided the thing through the shaving foam and down his cheek, leaving a path of deforestation in its wake. The narrator explained how its umpteen blades and something and what not rigamarole makes this the ultimate shaving system! … It’s a razor, people! … it’s a hand-powered tool with one function, to scrape off the morning stubble!

Now, shaving ads have had an evolution all their own in our time. In the 1950s, TV shaving commercials spoke about what a man should look like, and clean shaven was the order of the day. The ’60s still highlighted the ability to get a close shave, but could imply claims of attracting a better job, or better yet, the opposite sex. The 1970s saw technological improvements in blades and razors, where being clean-shaven shared the marketing narrative with comfort and convenience.

The first razor many boomer boys were given came from their fathers, either as a gift or as a hand-me-down. Mister Boomer knows several friends who began their shaving life with the double-edged safety razor their fathers were issued in the armed services during WWII. Such was the case for Mister B. A couple of years later, Mister B’s father received a razor in the mail as an advertising promotion. Gillette, a leading manufacturer of the time, sent out razors to every male of a certain age in his area. His father, satisfied with the razors he had, gave the new razor to him. Once he turned eighteen, Mister B would get razor promotions sent directly to him.

The marketing thought was obviously, give them the razor, and they will continue to be a customer by buying the blades. Throughout the 1970s, this was how Mister Boomer acquired razors, first from Gillette, then from Schick. In each instance, the razor was the latest and greatest in terms of its technology of handle comfort, weight, and most importantly, ability to give a close shave. Toward that end, new razors often accompanied the introduction of new blades, from twin bladed cartridges to injector blades that had co-existed alongside the double-edge blades our fathers had used.

Slowly but surely, the twin-bladed razor became the standard until companies, into the 1980s, saw more competition than ever before, and felt the need to up the ante on the number of blades they could fit onto the head of their razors. At this point in time, three-bladed razors are commonplace, but razors containing up to five blades are making inroads. Apparently this is contributing to the bulky silhouette of the new “shaving system” Mister B saw on TV.

In the interest of full disclosure, here is the part where Mister B has to eat a small slice of humble pie. While researching this post, he discovered that Schick produced a commercial in the 1970s that described their injector-blade razor as a “shaving system.” Mister B received his Schick injector-blade razor through the mail in the early 1970s. As a point of order, the commercial described the process by which the blade cartridge was inserted into the side of the razor head, where operating a slider on the top of the blade cartridge injected a new blade into the razor, simultaneously ejecting the old. The used blade could then be placed into a slot on the bottom of the razor cartridge. One might see that as a system of sorts. Mister B will fall on the side of this process appearing closer to a system than a hand-held razor that has no interaction with its user outside of the act of shaving. Therefore, Mister Boomer still believes his righteous indignation at the use of the term in the current commercial is valid.

How about you, boomers? Have you ever had a shaving system and does such a thing sound practical to your boomer mind?

Mister B Takes Another Nostalgia Trip

In this time of stay-at-home orders, if there is one train Mister B has been on frequently, it’s the nostalgia train. It may have been a long, strange trip, but boomers are so incredibly privileged to have such a rich pop culture history, to serve as the backdrop for our personal Wayback machines.

This latest excursion for Mister B involved yet another piece of our musical history. For some unknown reason, a song popped into his head and has been stuck there as an ear worm for a week. When Mister B thought about it, he realized that this particular song was among the earliest he had heard, often enough on his transistor radio, to be able to sing along when it was played:

Does your chewing gum lose its flavor
On the bedpost overnight?
If your mother says, don’t chew it
Do you swallow it in spite?
Can you catch it on your tonsils?
Can you heave it left and right?
Does your chewing gum lose it’s flavor
On the bedpost overnight?

Were you hearing the tune while reading the lyrics? That was Lonnie Donegan’s novelty hit, Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (on the Bedpost Overnight)? from 1961. So, if you are like Mister B, you are recalling lyrics to a song that is 59 years old, and you may not have heard it in decades.

To a preteen boomer like Mister B, it was silly, yet memorable. Mister Boomer didn’t know anyone who had bedposts, but could imagine some kids might want to try to save their chewing gum one way or another. Mister B would not be among them, not only because he wasn’t an avid chewing gum fan to begin with, but he’d also experienced enough wads of chewing gum beneath diner tables to dissuade any thoughts of recycling one’s own previously-chewed material. Consequently, it was funny, but not realistic.

An examination of the song and its lyrics, however, bring into question the whole purpose behind the novelty hit. It was a reworking of a song from 1924, Does The Spearmint Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight? An American song, it would have been part of the pre-Depression landscape of an economic boom that ushered Calvin Coolidge into the White House in that year’s presidential election.

Lonnie Donegan was known as the King of Skiffle in the UK at the time of the song’s U.S. release. Skiffle was a musical genre that held references to American folk music, jazz and blues. Many bands from the British Invasion named skiffle as a major influence for their music. John Lennon’s first band was a skiffle band. Lonnie Donegan was a major star in Great Britain, releasing 24 consecutive Top 30 hits. He was the first male star from the UK to have two U.S. Top 10 hits before Chewing Gum was released. So it begs the question, why a novelty song in 1961?

That year, the U.S. was listening to the Shirelles, Chubby Checker, Patsy Cline, Connie Francis, Roy Orbison and Ricky Nelson, among others. Donegan’s music was unlike any of them, but referenced the same influences of American music. Perhaps it was a way to introduce skiffle back to the country that spawned its influences?

There is another possible strange connection that could help to answer the question, and it had to do with the 1960 presidential election. The lyrics to the song travel around like the performers in a Vaudeville show, stopping only for a punchline. There are stanzas about grandmothers looking to get lucky with prowlers who got stuck on the bedpost, newlyweds on their honeymoon, big brothers taking your chewing gum, and several others. Among them is a decidedly political stanza that Donegan kept from the 1924 original:

Now the nation rise as one
To send their only son
Up to the White House
Yes, the nation’s only White House

To voice their discontent
Unto the President
They pawn the burning question
What has swept this continent?

When the song was written, Calvin Coolidge had won a massive victory over his Democratic rival, and an independent candidate. Coolidge became president when Warren Harding was assassinated, then won a full term in the election of 1924. He was hardly a reform candidate, nor was the country in great distress, so it is unclear as to what the original satirical intent of the lyrics might allude. Forty years later, why did Lonegan choose to include the stanza when he altered others? John Kennedy had won the 1960 presidential election and was inaugurated as president in January of 1961, just seven months before the release of the song. However, Donegan had released the song in the UK in 1957, a time of Recession in the U.S. under then President Dwight Eisenhower. Is it possible that Donegan, an Englishman, was commenting on American politics? Was he a Kennedy fan? Was his song saying that the staleness of gum on a bedpost — a stand-in for the previous administration — was now apparent for all to see, and it was time for change? Or is that reading too much into a silly novelty song?

What do you think, boomers? In your youth, do you recall singing along to Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (on the Bedpost Overnight)? Do you still have a copy of the 45 RPM?