Hard Smell

Advertising, Everyday

I wonder how hard it was to sell the first deodorant. These are the things that I think about, go figure.

Today, most of us couldn’t imagine living without the sweet smell of antiperspirants, but there was once a time when it didn’t exist and people were oblivious to the fact that they all reeked–or at least silently tolerant of their smelly brethren. I mean, people used to only bathe once a week, if at all. And let’s not forget about the lack of proper air-conditioning. People used to suffer through the heat, working outside, in heavy fabric, creating moats of sweat that trailed away from their aching bodies. The stench must have been thick and impermeable. Yum.

You might think that it would be an easy sell. A guy walks into a store and declares a solution to the incredibly overwhelming odor that people suffered every day. Who could say no? But there are a few things that might have made it awkward…

Wikipedia doesn’t shed light on the gender of the person we all owe our noses to because apparently the name on the original patent was lost, which sucks (mostly for them, but a little for me because now I have to make assumptions). However, we do know that the patent was submitted in the late nineteenth century. Good work, historians. Needless to say, that man–or woman–had to get a test-subject. That means that the anonymous inventor had to tell people that they smelled bad. Oh they could have tried it out on themselves, but a true inventor knows that eventually they would need to broaden their experiment to include other subjects. And that must have been awkward, because, let’s be real here, everyone was probably pretty used to the rankness of their world and stopped noticing. How would you like to be the person he picked?

After the first deodorant passed the test and Dr. John Doe did a little happy dance, the next obvious step would have been marketing. Now before you go all “she’s sexist” on me for making our smell savior a man, please remember the historical context of my imagination and assume (see, here come the assumptions) that a woman probably had a harder time securing a patent than a man. Then again, maybe that’s why the name was conveniently “lost”… This could turn into a far more interesting story on the early beginnings of women’s rights, but I have already written Dr. John Doe’s name twice and don’t feel like going back and changing it. So there.

Continuing on. Even if the Doc started selling the roll-on salve out of his garage, he would have had to used some form of advertising to get the word out. I can imagine it now, hand-printed flyers with “Do you smell bad?” printed in big, bold letters. He could even use his first test subject as the face of the campaign. I’m sure people were begging to be the first person in line to declare their lack of personal hygiene–I know I would be. Or maybe Dr. John created a special section in the back of the pharmacy that worked like a speakeasy. He could have created a bunch of really fun passwords that his customers had to whisper at the counter and embarrass themselves in front of everyone else. Maybe there was a secret hand gesture. Or maybe not.

Whatever actually happened is lost to history. But, one thing is for sure, it would have been an interesting time to be in the perfume market.