There are broadly 3 kinds of toothpaste advertisements in India: ones that primarily pitch strong and healthy teeth, ones that mainly sell sensitive teeth protection, and ones that primarily promise fresh breath.
Colgate’s MaxFresh variant is the third kind. The product competes against the entire range of toothpastes from CloseUp.
Colgate has always advertised its MaxFresh range using celebrities.
One of the earliest celebrities the brand used was Allu Arjun, pan-India, long before he became a bonafide pan-Indian star after Pushpa, way back in 2013, with a follow-up campaign in 2015.
From 2016 to early 2023, Ranveer Singh was the celebrity face of the brand. Here’s a playlist of the ads.
The difference between Colgate’s MaxFresh ‘fresh breath’ ads and CloseUp’s range that promises the same ‘fresh breath’ benefit is that the former simply builds an elaborately exaggerated song and dance around ‘freshness’ while the latter always pegs it as a lever for a couple coming closer.
But, in late 2023, Colgate, for the first time, made a departure in its standard, templatized narrative around MaxFresh, courtesy of the agency Ogilvy India.
So, no more celebrities! And no more generic naach-gaana around ‘freshness’.
Instead, MaxFresh now had a very specific positioning: avoid morning goof-ups! The device to land this pitch was through a doctor who came in for early morning surgery and goof-ups all through… till a colleague offered Colgate MaxFresh to him. After that, sab changa si.
I’m sure you may have seen this ad during the Cricket World Cup 2023 where it was in heavy rotation on TV, but here it goes, just in case:
That brings me to the three problems with this positioning, and hence, this new campaign for Colgate MaxFresh. The problems escalate in terms of severity, so let me frame them as ‘Small, ‘Medium’, and ‘Large’ 🙂
1. The ‘Small’ problem
The ‘small’ problem summarized: Do doctors not drink coffee before a morning surgery?
Usually, only the patients are asked not to drink coffee or any fluids, not the doctor 🙂
No, there’s no blanket rule or guide around this; it depends from doctor to doctor. But most doctors, before an early morning surgery, do wake up, brush their teeth, and have a cup of their favorite coffee before proceeding to perform the surgery.
What happens after a cup of coffee? You may completely forget that you even brushed your teeth 🙂 In fact, after you drink or eat anything after brushing, you can confidently say bye-bye to your toothpaste.
Would it be possible that the doctor walked into the surgery room without brushing his teeth in the morning? Hardly. Moreso for a doctor. So, when the colleague shows him a tray featuring Colgate MaxFresh, it is implied that the toothpaste he had used to brush his teeth, at his home, was not fresh enough.
So, to attribute the doctor’s goof-ups and sleepiness to merely the toothpaste he used, and completely overlook the coffee he perhaps had after brushing his teeth, not only seems preposterous but also seeks a generous suspension of disbelief.
Of course, other toothpaste brands have done far worse in the past. Take, for example, CloseUp, that actually promised “12-hour protection” all through the day!!!
All I can do is roll my eyes and go, ‘Dei, seriously?’.
Okay, let us assume that there is perhaps some quirk among doctors that consuming a stimulant like coffee before surgery may not be entirely appropriate. There is nothing like that, but let us just presume that it exists, for argument’s sake.
That would ratify the narrative and promise of the new positioning for Colgate MaxFresh. But the follow-up ad to the TV ad showcases a newspaper page editor goofing up by placing all the images on the front page upside down.
This ad’s conceit didn’t go well, to say the least 😉
Ironically, newspaper pages are edited and designed the previous night, not in the morning. They are printed in the night, after which there is no editing, just sorting and delivery 🙂 But, even if you assume that this is about a page-setting person who sleepily goofs up with the visuals, it is completely unlikely that he didn’t have a stimulating cup of coffee before starting work. After coffee, the point of toothpaste? No chance at all 🙂
When the positioning of Colgate MaxFresh stayed at a celebrity-naach-gaana level, it all worked within the already exaggerated premise. But when Ogilvy shifted the positioning to bring a slightly more realistic narrative, with only the creative device being exaggerated to make a point (the bed stuck to the doctor’s back to symbolize, ‘He’s still sleepy/in bed’), the lack of context around real/normal people reaching out for a stimulant like coffee, after brushing, in the morning started to jar quite visibly.
But, this is only the ‘small’ problem. If the basic positioning itself is only the ‘small’ problem, what could be the medium-sized problem?
2. The ‘Medium-sized’ problem
The crux of the medium-sized problem: Colgate MaxFresh’s new positioning now forces the product to compete with mattresses, facewash, deo spray, and coffee!
Five months before Ogilvy launched Colgate MaxFresh’s ‘morning goof-ups’ campaign, in June 2023, Springwell Mattress launched a campaign depicting the result of sleeplessness, through the agency Enormous.
The ad campaign featured Boman Irani as the sutradhar who identifies people who are goofing up in assorted situations and traces the reason back to their lack of sleep.
So a couple has a morning fight over a mistaken identity, an employee tries to swipe his metro travel card in his office instead of his office ID card, and another woman forgets to press the button in the lift she gets into. Not very different from the sleepy doctor who walks with his bed tied to his back – just different manifestations of morning goof-ups!
One month before the Colgate MaxFresh relaunch campaign, another mattress brand, Sleepwell, launched the ‘Did you sleep well?’ campaign (agency: Sideways Consulting).
Even though this ad film did not show any explicit and obvious morning goof-ups (they were more of annoyed/tired looks and shouting), the pitch was very similar even as the denouement was a charming question that harks back to the brand name.
If we go a few years back, we have Clean & Clear’s 2019 campaign for the ‘morning fresh’ range of facewash by Dentsu Impact. The pitch? “Ab full energy se wake up!”. The ad shows sleepy young women goofing up in assorted situations.
Going further back, Axe/Lynx used the same idea for its shower gel in 2010! Of course, within the Axe universe, a goof-up is all about missing ‘girls’!
If we go even further back, Nescafe pitched its coffee as the perfect stimulant to wake a sleepy VJ Gaurav Kapur, courtesy of the agency McCann-Erickson. Gaurav doesn’t “goof up” per se, but he generally seems sleepy and ‘not himself’.
But Springwell is the closest to Colgate MaxFresh’s new positioning, using an almost identical idea and pitching the mattress as the solution to morning goof-ups, that too, just 5 months before Colgate landed the same idea.
3. The large problem
Now, about that ‘large’ problem!
A full ten years before Ogilvy landed this new positioning for Colgate MaxFresh, another toothpaste used the same idea, with an almost similar creative device!
Take a look at Dabur Babool Mint Gel ad from 2014 (I couldn’t find the agency that conceived this idea).
While the Dabur ad attached only the pillow to people’s heads, Colgate goes the whole hog by attaching the enter bed to the doctor’s back 🙂 But the result—and the intent—is identical, that too in the same ‘fresh breath’ toothpaste advertising category! There are no visible ‘goof-up’ elements in the Dabur ad, though.
Of course, all the counterpoints that apply to Colgate’s MaxFresh’s new campaign (listed above) would apply to Dabur Babool Mint Gel too… but it’s just that they were a decade early when it comes to linking toothpaste and morning drowsiness.
Given these 3 problems, I’m not sure if Colgate MaxFresh’s relaunch with this positioning is all that fresh either from a creative device’s point of view or the benefits point of view. What it does is add Colgate MaxFresh to an already crowded space of products that largely promise the same benefit – beat morning drowsiness, something that is instinctively associated with what you drink after brushing your teeth – coffee.