The UK advertising economy, claims the Creative Industries Council on their website, is one of the most sophisticated and dynamic in the world. Advertising adds £120 billion to the UK GDP, and in 2015, there were 499,000 advertising and marketing jobs in the UK creative economy. So why are our toothpaste adverts so absolutely shit?
Viewing an advert for any product produced by the dental sector is a sure-fire gateway into another world, a world whose only other port of entry is, to not sweeten the matter, fetish porn. The two genres overlap, complement each other and make up for each other’s shortcomings. In this toothpaste-deviance dimension, national priorities are overturned to fit the twisted fantasies of the producer: maybe dentists are elevated to the same social standing as professional footballers, or every woman likes it when random men lick her shoes, or it is suddenly fine to tie people up, or toothbrushes can enthusiastically be called ‘cool’ with little to no opposition. We enter Fantasy Fetish Dental Zone, and it is every normal person for themselves.
Goodbye, smooth camera movements of the sort designed to show off a product, or at least not show up the advertiser as a raging lunatic. We will set up a dentist’s surgery, or a pristine bathroom, and film it like we are actually doing a shot-by-shot remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Fetishists zoom in erratically on the body part of their choice, tooth magnates focus in on dental hygiene packaging as if the cameraman is fleeing from a cavity-ridden serial killer.
We won’t need good sound design in Fantasy Fetish Dental Zone, either. We are so nervous of our own credibility as a product (‘Toothpaste? What’s that?’, say audiences nationwide) that we always make sure to fill the set with echoes: perhaps if we multiply the resounding voices until all you hear is a swarm of toothy bees, the message will finally sink in. Dentists, like the at-risk participants of hardcore pornography, must provide testimonies in person. And how do we know that they really are real dentists, and not down-on-their-luck actors wearing discounted Halloween costumes? How do we know that they are there by choice, and not dragged from their surgeries, guns pointed to their heads as they stare at the camera, bathed in pure white light?
This mysterious, industry-specific bizarrity deserves an explanation, and one could probably be imagined for it. In the eighteenth century, a Frenchman sits in jail dreaming about teeth – about cleaning them, about pulling them, about decorating his chambers in the latest neoclassical style and gluing thousands of little teeth to the wall in the shape of a laurel wreath or sacrificial lamb. Banished to the Bastille for unlicensed dentistry, he must resort to writing down his many vivid, violent fantasies on one huge roll of paper. It is lost for many years, but somehow ends up in the City of London, crumpled on the street between a Pret a Manger and the headquarters of a major global conglomerate.
‘Wow,’ says Ben from Marketing, ‘this is great!’