We'd Like to Whiten Our Fangs Before We Tear Into Another Ad

Recounting Our Online Search for Dental Relief

By Published on .

AdReview, we are embarrassed to report, smokes.

Cigars. Lots of them. For 30 years.

We also drink lots of coffee. Basically, a pot per day. Plus two or three Diet Cokes. This is how we stay happy and alert. It is also how we have discolored our beautiful and disarming smile. And so, as part of our steady march toward physical perfection, we have decided to bleach our teeth.
Mrs. AdReview had a solution in her bathroom beauty stash.
Mrs. AdReview had a solution in her bathroom beauty stash.

We've also decided -- since we've been prattling on for years about the digital revolution and the displacement of display advertising by the digital revolution -- this week not to do an ad review, per se. Instead, we're recounting our online search for dental relief. This may or may not result in a brighter smile, but maybe it will delay our tragic obsolescence for at least one more week.

The heroic odyssey begins with a simple Google search: teeth whitener. It yielded more or less what you'd expect: eight ads ("sponsored results") along the right rail, all for local dentists; three ads in a beige box above the main search field; and, below that, the unpaid results themselves. Our first reaction was to ignore all the ads -- because they were ads, and because they were ads for dentists, whom AdReview regards as car salesmen with drills. So we turned immediately to the unpaid results.

(Now, perhaps you're thinking that the self-conscious chronicling of the exercise influenced our actual online behavior -- sort of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, as applied to marketing journalism. Fear not. The moment we began, we became so absorbed in the hunt we utterly forgot about the journalism part.)
The first entry was from the American Dental Association, which summarized the options (whitening toothpaste, over-the-counter bleaching agents, dental-office bleaching) with surprising evenhandedness. It did not dump all over Crest WhiteStrips, for example.

The next step was to find information from more neutral sources -- such as Consumer Reports -- by adding the word "review" to the search terms. This was not immediately productive. The magazine report comparing bleaching systems was available, but only via subscription, and other supposedly objective "review" sites looked suspiciously like ad venues disguised as consumer journalism.

Another problem was sites such as Amazon and Rate It All, which showed no apparent bias but displayed results based on as little as one respondent. That doesn't even hint at consensus, much less statistical significance. This highlighted one of the critical flaws of the internet: While it is an endless reservoir of information, most of that information is useless.

Thank goodness for another internet quality: aggregation. We eventually alighted on ConsumerSearch, a unit of About, a unit of The New York Times. Here we found a summary of consumer tests by various publications from The Wall Street Journal to Good Housekeeping to, lo and behold, Consumer Reports. (Also the Shanghai Second Medical University, which has always been our second-favorite medical university in Shanghai, right after Shanghai First Medical University.)

Synthesizing all of the information on the handy chart, we divined that home bleaching kits are almost as good as $400-$1,000 in-office treatments -- and, sure enough, among many tested, Crest Whitestrips was a pretty good bet. So, on the basis of 20 minutes of research by what the search sales people call a "motivated" consumer, we decided to offer our teeth, for 14 days, to Procter & Gamble Co.

Then we remembered something.

In the bathroom vanity, amid Mrs. AdReview's personal-hygiene overflow, a few months back, didn't we see some WhiteStrips? The knees are in worse shape than the teeth, but we crouched down to see.

Nope. It was Colgate Simply White.

So we used that.
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