Deodorant Wars: A Very Special "Am I Okay? I Might Not Be Okay?" Late Stage Pandemic Edition
July 19, 2021
Like many of us, in a valiant attempt to maintain my mental health, I've spent much of the past year past year-and-a-half-twenty-twenty-garbage in a place of quiet self-reflection and contemplation. When so many things you held to be true and constant are suddenly proven to be false or shifting -- the inerrant goodness of humanity, the forward curve of justice, the strength of the global toilet paper supply chain, etc. -- it's important to try to stay grounded and focused on what hasn't changed, on what you can depend on.
For me, in particular, it's the enduring and absolute marketing battshittery of the deodorant label.
I mean, look at this thing. This is no mere tube of armpit goo. This is Degree® MOTIONsense® ULTRACLEAR BLACK + WHITE PURE CLEAN INVISIBLE SOLID antiperspirant. Or more accurately:
BLACK + WHITE
This thing has not one, but TWO registered trademarks! It's got the balls to put the three most specifically descriptive words about the product at VERY BOTTOM, in VERY TEENY TINY TYPE! And it STILL needs to spill over to the lid space to assert that it is also ANTI YELLOW STAINS and ANTI WHITE MARKS!
And look! They put the yellow on the white side and the white on the black side of the sticker to masterfully reflect the specific fabric colors most at risk of these particular problems, but maybe -- just maybe -- it's because Degree® MOTIONsense® ULTRACLEAR BLACK + WHITE PURE CLEAN INVISIBLE SOLID antiperspirant is also ANTI RACIST.
It's not BLACK and WHITE, after all. It's BLACK plus WHITE. It's the math of unity, because we're all in this together as sweaty gross humans. And it doesn't matter what color your skin is -- this shit's invisible anyway!
What always delights me about these labels-- can you imagine how many meetings went into this? How many takes on the sassy dresses and how many discussions re: Dress Boob Size and How Much Invisible Cleavage Should We Suggest some poor graphic designer had to sit through? I bet the ampersand vs. plus sign thing ALONE took three weeks and involved at least one weary lawyer explaining that no, we can register that as a trademark either way, please stop inviting me to these things -- is that I actually can't remember the last time I - the target demographic - personally purchased deodorant. (Sorry, "antiperspirant.") It's always the item I never think about until Jason texts me "hey at Target, anything we need?"
"deodorant," I text back, vaguely remembering that whatever I used that morning was officially running out and scrape-y.
"ok what kind" Jason USED to text back, but now he finally knows me and my deodorant preferences, which are:
1) Whatever is on sale
2) No pink scents, only blue or green scents
And thus, Degree® MOTIONsense® ULTRACLEAR BLACK + WHITE PURE CLEAN INVISIBLE SOLID antiperspirant was selected because it was, in fact, on sale and its scent was visually expressed in an acceptable shade of blue: PURE CLEAN
(It turns out he's actually bought this exact deodorant for me before, back in 2017. The label was mostly the same except it was excitedly marked as NEW! Damn, I had a first edition and didn't even realize it! Probably because I was okay before, and that's...obviously questionable now.)
I guess that's still a win for the Deodorant Marketing People: Years and years of color coding mean I (and more importantly, my long-suffering husband) can instinctively recognize that PINK = baby powder, or flowers, or flower-scented baby powder. Meanwhile, we all know that BLUE = scents like Pure Sport Air Clean Spring Water Mountain Fresh and GREEN = something cucumber-y, usually.
Why only the latter two are acceptable to me is probably rooted in adolescent insecurity, discomfort with my developing/changing body, and/or a desperate need to be Not Like Other Girls, I'm a Cool Girl, My Deodorant Suggests I Like Sports And Salads.
(Zoom therapy sucks, BTW.)
Moving on. Let's see the back!
Aha! MOTIONsense®, explained! THE MORE YOU MOVE THE MORE IT PROTECTS. I'm a bit disappointed they didn't manage to at least slap a © on this, but maybe they ate up too much production lead time on whether to make ULTRACLEAR one word or two, and Carol was going to shit a brick if she didn't get sign-off in time. This also seems a touch tone deaf, given how we just lived through a GODDAMN PANDEMIC and SOME of us didn't really do very much moving on a day-to-day basis. Here, have a free product pitch:
SENTIENTsense®: THE MORE YOU SIT ON THE COUCH AND CRY THE MORE IT WILL ATTEMPT TO MAKE YOU SMELL LIKE YOU SHOWERED RECENTLY
Active ingredient: literally the same fucking thing as every other tube on the next five or fix shelves, until you get to the small cluster of hippy shit at the end of the aisle
Uses: reduces underarm wetness
And there is it. The truth laid bare. All the extra promises of MOTIONsense® technology and pledges to stand up against the twin scourges of yellow stains and white marks and sassy party dresses suggesting an improved social life -- nay, this is but a humble tube of armpit goo, after all.
(Just don't ever expect them to use the word "sweat." It's "underarm wetness" and it's different, because we are LADIES.)
Anyway, we are remodeling our bathroom and spent the weekend emptying out the closets and vanities and medicine cabinets. I came across a very old (and very expired) friend:
The Deodorant Wars usually ended with all the other deodorants kicking the shit out of poor Tom's of Maine, for reasons that seemed funny to me at the time. But now, 13 years -- THIRTEEN GODDAMN YEARS -- after my stir-crazy, work-at-home-mom-brain first procrastinated on cleaning a bathroom and decided to instead explore the rich inner lives of a bunch of deodorants, I suppose I've softened. The War is over, Tom. You were indeed long lasting, even if Jason refused to even try you. Fare thee well.
(P.S. I also disposed of a lot of expired and alarmingly large Mexican ibuprofen from when I broke my elbow in the same trash bag. It's mixed up with some coffee grounds and natural pine kitty litter but maybe you guys could party.)
This post was NOT sponsored by Degree® MOTIONsense® ULTRACLEAR BLACK + WHITE PURE CLEAN INVISIBLE SOLID antiperspirant, which is good because it's actually pretty meh and I should probably tell Jason not to buy it again. It absolutely left yellow pit stains on one my white t-shirts, but I'd already spilled red wine on it so no big loss.
i think all the time about the marketing meetings that go into getting stuff like this and/or dumb commercials approved and produced, so glad it's not just me. also this whole post made my day, thank you!
Posted by: janine | July 19, 2021 at 01:17 PM
I love deodorant wars. This makes me feel like things are again normal (even though they are most decidedly not, I mean have you seen Missouri's COVID numbers?!)
Posted by: Amy in StL | July 19, 2021 at 02:03 PM
Having had a small bit of experience with product design, I'm pretty sure there were definitely many discussions about that deodorant label and somewhere out there is a team of marketing people and graphic designers who would probably be very glad that at least somebody appreciates them.
(Always good to see a post from you. Glad you're all hanging in there.)
Posted by: Rebecca M | July 19, 2021 at 02:53 PM
My favorite game to play while shoppoing for for everyday, simple stuff is "Who Greenlit This?"
Posted by: Celeste | July 19, 2021 at 02:54 PM
I laughed way more than I should have this. I am a blue and green girl too and your descriptions of the scents are accurate. And good old Toms!
Posted by: Darra | July 19, 2021 at 04:08 PM
I used to be a blue-man deodorant fan as a broke sweaty teen- Mom would get 4 packs of it at Costco that everyone (Mom, Dad, big brother, and me) would use. But then Gillette changed up something in the smell that gave Mom migraines. After that it was up to me to pick out my scents- this would have right around the time of the first deodorant wars! I have tried out greens and pinks from the lady aisle. I’m gonna have to try out a lady-blue next time I need deodorant but I did just buy a two pack of pink.
Pro-tip for anyone scent sensitive; hunting stores have totally unscented deodorants. Found that out when I went to Cabela’s to look at the aquarium and realized I’d skipped the armpit goo that morning.
Posted by: Anna | July 19, 2021 at 08:11 PM
I have a lot of brand loyalty (much of it more trained than substantiated), and it really is amazing how little brand matters with deodorant.
Posted by: Kate | July 19, 2021 at 08:42 PM
DEODORANT WARS, oh how I’ve missed you!
I didn’t know this was what I needed to end a chaotic Monday, but it was!
Posted by: Ang | July 19, 2021 at 10:35 PM
Thank you! 😂😂😂
Posted by: Sarah | July 20, 2021 at 12:35 AM
Hilarious! Made my day!
Posted by: Wendy Thompson | July 20, 2021 at 03:14 AM
But......have you tried Lume? The expensive, but better for you! and the planet! all natural wonder armpit (and everywhere else) goo that may change your life? I.....may have succumbed, and may be a subscription buyer now! Would be an interesting contender for the next goo-go-round, just sayin'!
Posted by: Shes | July 20, 2021 at 08:01 AM
Echoing Shes comment about Lume- that shit is the BOMB. Smells great, works really well, no aluminum which for me is HUGE as that shit is NOT good for you at all. You only have to apply it once every two days also. No itchiness, no stains, no aluminum. It's great stuff.
Posted by: Leeann | July 20, 2021 at 09:40 AM
Happy to see this post!
Posted by: Brigid | July 20, 2021 at 09:44 AM
Ahhh, Deodorant Wars. A tiny slice of normalcy!
P.S. does anyone else feel like this abrupt shift back into BUSY BUSY BUSY ALL THE SOCIAL EVENTS SEE ALL THE PEOPLE TRAFFIC TRAFFIC EVERYWHERE WHY ARE THESE PEOPLE STANDING SO CLOSE TO ME AT THE GROCERY STORE is... too much? No? Just me?
Posted by: Erin | July 20, 2021 at 10:42 AM
Embarrassingly, when I was a sweaty teen and was pit stainy even with deodorant, I went to the library to research deodorants. I had to use the card catalog to find magazines to request which the librarian had brought up on a trolley from the basement. So that research landed me on the fact that brand and smell don't matter. It's that percent on the back. And 14% is crap. You want at least 19% but 20% is better. You can now buy 'clinical' for 2-3x the price or just get Mitchum. It's the cheapest 20% on the market by far. Started using it after reading those articles and have never gone back.
Posted by: robin | July 20, 2021 at 11:55 AM
This is exactly what I needed today. It may not be front page news but I love your voice and honestly any little thing you write about brings joy. Even if I do like the pink scents myself.
Posted by: Veronica | July 20, 2021 at 12:01 PM
@Erin: It is 100% not just you. And also with rising case numbers in our area, I'm like: can we maybe have some sort of middle ground where we don't do things that are totally unnecessary and high-risk in an air-transmissible pandemic so that, like, the kids who *need* in-person school and the people who *need* non-emergency surgery can keep having those? Can we keep wearing masks and doing social distancing in grocery stores so that people can keep hugging their friends when they see them? Anyway. I am a cranky vaccinated person who is not happy with the breakthrough numbers with delta and delta is almost certainly not the last variant of this because most of the world isn't vaccinated yet and can we maybe find a good holding pattern in the US instead of this "fully open, ignore the virus" deal?
(in addition to my own dodgy immune system, I *might* be influenced by the fact that our local ICU is full again. In the summer. But our state is still on "oh, the pandemic is over, we don't need to report hospital capacities at all and only need to update case numbers once a week" mode and just... augh.)
Posted by: KC | July 20, 2021 at 01:27 PM
When the sensible-but-exasperated people of the world needed it most, Deodorant Wars came back.
Also, I work in marketing and I have sat in those exact meetings.
Posted by: Gemma | July 20, 2021 at 02:44 PM
@ Erin: I feel the same way, especially as the parent of a kid under 12. Who knows when we will have a vaccine for her age group. Also I live in Florida where people don't believe in masks and our Covid numbers are up something like 200% in the last two weeks. Amy it is nice to hear from you. Thank you for the little bit of Deodorant Wars nostalgia.
Posted by: Holly | July 20, 2021 at 03:47 PM
I always used to skip these, but I read this one. Every word.
I gave up the antiperspirant and use natural deodorant now. So I have quite a bit of underarm wetness...and also marks on all my clothes. But we're in a pandemic, and nothing matters anymore.
So there's my little dose of sunshine in your day. My God; could I sound any less morose? Happy to hear from you, in any case! Happily, I am headed to therapy now!
Posted by: Mary | July 20, 2021 at 04:38 PM
Long time reader. First time commenter. So good to hear your voice.
Posted by: Nadia Gulezko | July 20, 2021 at 08:35 PM
So good to hear you again! I miss your posts.
Posted by: Sue W. | July 21, 2021 at 06:28 AM
I'm always happy to see a Deodorant Wars update! It's the little things that bring me the greatest sense of normalcy these days...thanks Amy!
Posted by: Nancy | July 21, 2021 at 07:31 AM
Deodorant wars!!!!!!! Ahh such good memories. I myself also hate anything "powder" or pink colored, blech. I have started using Dove original clean years ago and have no plans of ever switching. Doesn't smell like anything but "clean slightly soapy smell" and doesn't appear to be marketed to any gender in particular. Probably causes yellow stains at the same rate as your fancy kind haha.
Posted by: Lauren | July 21, 2021 at 11:13 AM
This made me so ridiculously happy. I've missed the simple things in life, like anthropomorphized deodorants and snarky marketing takedowns. I know there are so many things that are more important than updating a blog, yet I still get excited seeing a new post. Thanks for the giggle!
Posted by: Connie B | July 21, 2021 at 12:36 PM
I get about 99.9% of my groceries from pickup and I don't trust the shopper to do "replacements" in case they pick pink scents, so when I was dangerously close to out of deodorant in March, I put a few different blue scents on the list figuring that at least half would be out of stock leaving me with a stick or two to try. Jokes on me--all were in stock and I accidentally chose the two-pack for one. I went from 0 to 5 sticks overnight. Then, I had 4 items on subscribe and save so I threw in another stick to get me up to the 15% off level. I am DROWNING in deodorant now. Especially with all the hippy shit that I got when the local hippy store closed. It doesn't work--I always end up with a rash under my arms and smelling like I live in the backwoods of a swamp.
(And like the commenters above, I'm having a hard time switching back to social mode. And live in Florida. And have to send my kids back into this mess with vaccines. And go back myself to a classroom of adults who don't wear masks. I need good deodorant to get me through the stress sweats. I may go buy Lume to complete my collection.)
Posted by: hp | July 24, 2021 at 09:17 PM
Glad to see you again! Sorry Zoom therapy sux.
Agree on the "no pink"... agree on the "who thought THIS was the right constellation of verbiage/fonts etc.". Gah.
I blame the pandemic for the level of introspection enabling us to ask the question "how was this thing I used to do now over a decade ago?" I have had much the same convo with myself about: swing dancing, jewelry making, roller blading. Middle age done ran me over.
Posted by: Sarah | July 25, 2021 at 05:23 PM