One of my secret pleasures during football season is watching the cavalcade of TV commercials for male grooming products. These ads take direct aim at our desire for attention and approval from the opposite sex. The implicit message is that by using a particular potion, lotion, or lather, any guy in America can become, in the current vernacular, a "babe magnet."
My love-hate relationship with advertising began at an early age, and I believe it was triggered by commercials for hair products. Brylcreem was the product that connected with me in a personal way, even while setting up false expectations of life in the adult world. The most compelling element of the Brylcreem ads was the memorable jingle that summed up its benefits in two crisp sentences: Brylcreem, a little dab'll do ya. They love to run their fingers through your hair!
A dab is exactly the sort of vague, real-world measurement that any 10-year-old boy can visualize instantly. It's bigger than a pinch, and smaller than a gob. And once the dab had been applied, "They" would suddenly appear. They with their skirts and bobby socks, lining up to run their fingers through my hair. It all sounded very promising, that grown-up life yet to come.
I was puzzled and disappointed that my dad eschewed the big names like Wildroot and Vitalis (which contained the special ingredient V-7, and always made me wonder what went wrong in the lab with V's 1 through 6). The tube on my dad's dresser was Top Brass, a brand that did not evoke any sense of glamour or prestige because I had never seen it promoted on television.
But my dad's preference was validated, and my feelings changed instantly, on the day a Top Brass commercial popped onto the screen unexpectedly. The ad, incidentally, is now part of TV trivia history because it featured actress Barbara Feldon, who later went on to stardom as Agent 99 in "Get Smart."
Many of those venerable concoctions have now faded into obscurity, victimized by changing hair styles and modern grooming techniques that favor gels and mousses. Brylcreem still has "A little dab'll do ya!" printed on the box, but no mention of anyone running her fingers through your hair. I'm glad they've discarded that assertion, because it certainly didn't come true for me.
But finding out that reality isn't like TV may be the most valuable lesson commercials teach us. Getting along in the world takes more than a comb and a bright smile. Relationships depend on more than just squeezing a tube or shaking a bottle. And there are no secret ingredients.
* Jeffrey Shaffer is a Monitor humor columnist. He writes from Portland, Ore.