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?

Grooming for Boomer Men: Not Your Father’s Personal Care

After the War, people were anxious to pick their lives up from where they left off. For a large number of middle-aged American men, that meant heading back to the “sensible,” slicked, parted-to-one-side hair of the late thirties and early forties, and the “correct” scents for a man. Old Spice (around since 1937), epitomized tradition with its nautical-themed packaging, Mennen Skin Bracer, and Aqua Velva after shave (first marketed as a mouthwash in 1929!) which many GIs became familiar with during the War as a substitute for alcohol, were among the dominant products in the marketplace. For younger men looking to start their new lives and families, however, a wave of modernism was rushing in. New styles in every aspect of life — from cars to homes; furniture to fashion — dictated the Man of the Future as the 1950s approached. The stirrings of cultural experimentation frayed the edges of the rock-solid world of their parents as these new families looked to find their own way in the suburbs. They produced the first baby boomers who reached their mid-teens in the latter half of the 1950s. While they took on the products of their fathers, these new fathers wanted to use them in their own styles.

As their children — the first male baby boomers — grew, the pop culture of movie and music stars like James Dean and Elvis helped define the contemporary man. Now, while slicking back their hair with the same products their fathers used, men wore their hair either longer or shorter. In either case, men’s hair sported a new, no-part look in styles like the pompadour or flat-top. Companies could breathe a sigh of relief as hair-care brands that had been accepted for decades were now embraced by this newly-minted generation.

Among them were Vitalis, Wildroot and Brylcreem. Each had been around for decades, appearing between 1910 and 1929. Brylcreem, originally a pomade (a mixture of water, mineral oil and beeswax), became one of the top hair creams for men in the 1950s, possibly due to a successful marketing program and catchy jingle that most boomers will recall by heart to this day.

While they sing “a little dab’ll do ya,” it sure looks like a whole lot more product made it into this actor’s hair. And where was the poor woman expected to wipe her hand after running her fingers through his hair?

Manly men marketing a manly product in a straightforward, manly way. Who didn’t trust the Lone Ranger and his stereotyped sidekick, Tonto?

As the fifties grew into the sixties, Eisenhower status quo grew into Kennedy cool. For one thing, men’s hair was even more upfront as they stopped wearing hats as a required piece of apparel. They wanted more natural hair, worn longer or shorter, and the scents that women could not resist. The companies of traditional brands could sense a change in the wind, and tailored their marketing to this new generation. Now, while still using the approach of how their products would attract the opposite sex, they showed young actors in contemporary fantasy scenes with contemporary music.

Any resemblance to Jan & Dean or the Beach Boys was purely intentional.

Before the Summer of Love influenced the course of popular culture in 1967, other companies saw an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon of this growing demographic. Using humor, along with tried-and-true sex appeal, they targeted their message directly at the man who wanted a new product for a new age.

A textbook case of how marketing can take a new brand and propel it to the forefront of popular culture. They sold the stuff inexpensively everywhere, including in those ubiquitous gift sets at the drug store.

Others joined suit, including the popular Jade East. They took the same path as Hai Karate, marketing to the younger set with an inexpensive price tag and wide availability. Many a teacher, boomer brother or father of boomer children received a gift set containing one of these featured scents from the 1960s.

Sex still sells here, but subtlety was not part of the script. Special thanks to Shindig and Hullabaloo, without which these dancers would not have the same impact.

English Leather and others also entered the arena. Again, the idea was to keep the price low and sex appeal quotient high. Another of these inexpensive colognes/after shaves to make the scene was Canoe. It had a mix of Old Spice traditional nautical packaging with modern, young lifestyle advertising. Now men had more choices — and an affordable price point — with which to display their manliness for their mate in their grooming products.

In an effort to differentiate their products and stick in the minds of their target audience, each company created great taglines that remain memorable in annals of advertising history:

Wildroot: “He uses a whistle, a wink and Wildroot: it gets her every time.”
“A little dab’ll do ya. She’ll love to run her fingers through your hair.”
“Does wonders for your hair… and you, too.”
Mennen Skin Bracer:
“Wherever you’ll find men… you’ll find Mennen.”
Aqua Velva:
” There’s something about an Aqua Velva man.”
Hai Karate:
“Be careful how you use it.”
Jade East:
“If she doesn’t give it to you, get it yourself.”
“Do you Canoe?” and “Canoe Canoe?”
English Leather:
“All my men wear English leather… or they wear nothing at all.”

Mister Boomer never liked the smell of hair products or after shave and cologne. He wasn’t big on using them at all, but in his early school days, his parents dictated what should be used. His father used both Aqua Velva and Mennen, but Mister B wasn’t shaving yet. In the case of his 1960s school days, it was Vitalis and Brylcreem for Mister B and his older boomer brother. In his early teens, an aunt bought him a bottle of English Leather as a birthday present. In an effort to try and fit in, Mister B confesses to dabbing a drop on each side of his neck for his earliest dating experiences. The bottle lasted more than a decade.

By contrast, Brother Boomer, Mister B’s older sibling, was a true aromatic man of his age. By his earliest high school dating years, he practically bathed in Hai Karate or Jade East. A short time later, he switched to Canoe. Mister B thinks his girlfriend at the time made that choice for him.

What smelled like boomer spirit for you, boomer boys and girls?