But that's mainly a canard. What savvy marketers do is conduct attitude research to identify existing consumer insecurities, then fashion a product for the job.
The fact is, we live in a society where some people genuinely worry not only about halitosis, but also about dishwasher spots, shower-tile scum and static cling. Corrective products emerge not because some brand manager or chemist dreams them up out of nowhere, but because enough people express anxiety about the perceived problem for Madison Ave. to come to the rescue.
If the entire free world has been brainwashed by hucksters, we ourselves couldn't be more delighted. (Yes, we are unequivocally in the anti-stench camp, and proud to be there. While body odor and bad breath may indeed be natural-as the consume-and-doom scolds maintain-so is tuberculosis.)
On the other hand, one of the most persistent and disgraceful advertising crimes is to identify consumer insecurities and exploit them to sell a product that in no way addresses the underlying problem. For instance: Campbell's soup invoking nutrition, British American Tobacco exhorting young people to be "independent" or (more benignly but no less dishonestly) Michelob claiming its beer will help you score chicks.
Seldom has there been a more brazen example than a new commercial for Kayser-Roth Corp.'s No Nonsense control-top pantyhose, via McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C.
The 30-second spot is set at an office party, where a stunning young woman approaches an executive and his wife. Turns out she works with the husband, Bob.
BOB: "Honey, this is my new associate, Karen."
The wife, who is fortysomething and quite attractive, albeit without a pinup-girl body, offers a pained smile.
WIFE: "Karen, nice to meet you."
But here's the gag: onscreen subtitles reveal her unspoken thoughts. ("What a waif.")
BOB: "We're going to be doing a lot of traveling together."
WIFE: "Bob's told me how smart and helpful you are." ("He failed to mention your perfectly flat stomach.")
KAREN: "Oh, Bob!"
WIFE: "Well, let's do lunch." ("Do you even eat?")
KAREN: "That'd be great. Bob's got my numbers."
WIFE: "OK." (I've got your number, too.")
VOICE-OVER: "We know how it is. Figure control. No Nonsense."
No. Nonsense. Complete and utter nonsense.
First of all, does this product take middle-age spread and convert it into a runway model's 24-inch waist? Not at all.
Secondly, on what basis does Mrs. Bob have any reason to consider the younger woman a rival? She's got her number? Now there's a paranoid leap.
Finally, if she had indeed sniffed out an incipient affair, how in the world would her own thinner-looking waist save the day? It wouldn't, of course.
What's particularly sick about this ad, however, isn't the ridiculousness of the premise; it is the cynicism of the psychology. Middle-age marital insecurity, for women especially, is a very real phenomenon. Men do, in fact, up and leave for younger women all the time, and the general fear of such is not necessarily neurotic at all.
To prey on that fear in order to sell pantyhose is beneath contempt. To offer your product as the magical solution-tongue in cheek or no-is a damnable lie. (And, on top of all that, women who feel completely secure in their marriages will be insulted by this characterization.)
There is certainly nothing wrong for women to want to look attractive, and control-top hosiery is as legitimate as any other tool for the job. But fear mongering of this sort, like a world without deodorant, truly and horridly and unnaturally stinks.