Much has been said by marketers of the Boomer Generation’s penchant for the brand loyalty they have exhibited for products that stretch back into our youth. While the “radical” streak running through boomers caused us to eschew products we perceived as “old,” meaning they belonged to our parents’ generation, this did not apply across the board, notably to toothpaste. It has been said that a good percentage of boomers still use the brands they used as kids.
Toothpaste was one of those things that were just part of the parental unit decisions, like soap, laundry detergent, and, when we were young, brand of jeans. Boomers that Mister Boomer has polled on the subject recall there was, at least until the mid-sixties, one tube of toothpaste for the entire family. You would use the brand regardless of how you felt about it, in the same way that you had no choice of what you would eat for dinner, except that you couldn’t just go to your room and get out of brushing your teeth.
There were many brands vying for the attention of boomer families — after all, the surge in population was a boon for product manufacturers and marketers across the country. So it was no surprise to find the major brands sponsoring radio programs and early TV shows from the fifties, into the sixties and seventies.
In Mister Boomer’s household four of the major brands made their way into the bathroom medicine cabinet at one point or another: Crest, Colgate, Pepsodent and Aqua-Fresh, though Crest was the clear winner in terms of longevity.
A true boomer-age product, Crest appeared in 1953. In its beginnings it was formulated with stannous fluoride so it was branded Fluoristan, later to be called Crest with Fluoristan. The argument was still being made across the country for adding fluoride to the water supply, though some toothpaste companies adopted the idea of adding fluoride as early as 1914. As far back as Mister B can remember, Crest was the family brand.
Colgate toothpaste had been around much longer than Crest. It was introduced in 1896 and was the first toothpaste commercially available in a collapsible tube. The Colgate Company sold fragrances and soaps since 1806. In 1953 the company name was officially changed to Colgate-Palmolive, in recognition of their best selling brands. Boomers will recall that Colgate sponsored many TV shows and had a variety of commercials on practically every night of the week in the fifties and early sixties.
Mister B does not know how or why Colgate toothpaste made its way into the house every now and then — maybe the drug store was out of Crest? One thing was for certain, though; Mister B did not like the taste. It seemed so medicinal and gritty. At least Crest was less intrusive.
Most boomers can sing the Pepsodent jingle from the fifties and sixties:
You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!
Like Colgate, the brand was popular long before the Boomer Era, appearing in 1915. The name of the product was derived from the original formula, which contained a digestive agent called pepsin. This ingredient broke down and digested food deposits on the teeth. Sales dropped precipitously in the 1950s, perhaps because the brand was slow to add fluoride like most of the other major brands. That necessitated more advertising and brand positioning. While Colgate and Crest stressed fighting cavities and good oral hygiene by stating they were recommended by the American Dental Association, Pepsodent was confident in appealing to people who just wanted whiter teeth and fresher breath.
Pepsodent rarely showed up in the Mister Boomer household. Despite it looking like a candy cane with red stripes swirling through its white paste — and its minty taste — Mister Boomer was not impressed.
A late arrival to the boomer scene, Aqua-Fresh (later branded as Aquafresh) arrived in 1973. Like Pepsodent, it was layered. Instead of a red stripe and white paste, though, Aqua-Fresh was originally a white toothpaste sandwiched with an aqua-green gel layer intended to freshen breath. In 1983 the company introduced its triple protection formula and added a red gel to its white and aqua toothpaste, which is its current incarnation.
Mister Boomer does not recall how this brand made its occasional way into the household, but assumes his younger sister had something to do with it. It didn’t matter, though, because by then Mister B was in college and was buying his own Crest.
Did your family have a favorite brand of toothpaste when you were a kid, boomers, and have you stayed loyal to that brand?