Warning: This blog contains a few mild swear words. They are all used gratuitously, and are by no means required by the context. I just felt like using them.
Hello everybody. Welcome to the GhostOfClayton Twice Fortnightly Blog (twice-fortnightly until I can no longer be arsed). Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
I had a toothache this week. Not too painful, but sufficient to make chewing on the right side of my mouth an uncomfortable experience. It went away the next day, so I’m obviously going to do the male thing, and forget it ever happened. But it got me thinking about teeth.
The defining characteristic of a Brit, in the eyes of our friends in the US, is that our teeth aren’t up to much. Now, looking at the OfClayton ivory collection during ablutions, I can’t put up too much of a spirited defence, if I’m honest. They’re all there, but they don’t have the kind of uniformity a US Citizen would expect, and they’re certainly well short of that American whiteness you could see by in the dark . . . and anything astern of my canine teeth have a distinctly metallic theme going on, in between the grinding surfaces.
Why? I visit the dentist regularly. I have an electric toothbrush, and use it until it tells me to stop. I use a branded toothpaste.
But will these things help me to get a gleaming set of perfect gnashers? The simple answer is ‘no’. As you get older, dentine builds up in the teeth, and they go yellow. Having them whitened is purely a cosmetic thing. Teeth grow at imperfect angles, and only if the angle becomes quite severe, or if you want them to be perfectly aligned for cosmetic reasons, will you have scaffolding erected around them to push them gradually straight. Mine were always just sufficiently straight that braces were never considered. Also to be factored in is the matter of fillings. When I was a kid, the fillings you had were metallic and contained mercury. By the time white fillings came along, my teeth were already liberally dotted with dark patches, and so one or two white fillings would be an exercise in futility.
Then there’s the cost to consider. Like every right-thinking UK resident, I balk at the need to spend any of my hard-earned cash on healthcare, even the small matter of the tenner it costs for a filling. So if the dentist has the affront to suggest I stump an additional fiver for something merely cosmetic like a white filling (and free of mercury, but let’s not examine that too closely), then obviously I’m going to look back at him with my most withering of sceptical gazes. I mean, if I’d had a bad road accident on my way to the dentist, was helicoptered to the nearest trauma centre, had a series of major operations, spent 6 months recovering in hospital with round the clock nursing care, and the latest medications, I wouldn’t need to trouble my cheque book at all. And yet, if I made it to the dentist with all limbs still intact, “Hey, Presto!”, another ten pounds disappears from the OfClayton family fortune. And aren’t dentists all failed doctors anyway? They should be cheaper! Before I upset too many dentists, I don’t believe that for a second, and very much credit dentists with the respect they deserve. I’m merely opening up a window into the British mentality with regard to actually paying for healthcare (shudder).
That was my first theory about why British teeth are seen as unfit to grace US TV screens. My second is more sinister.
Imagine I was a pharmaceutical magnate, with a vast fortune to invest in a new brand of toothpaste. I have two business models to choose from:
Business Model A
I invest the majority of the money into dental research to make sure that the active ingredients going into my product are the most efficacious in terms of tooth decay prevention, limitation of plaque and tartar build-up, and enamel strengthening. All these ingredients are expensive, and require both technically advanced plant and a skilled workforce, to ensure consistent manufacture of the product, and high quality standards. Because of the cost of raw materials, its unit cost is also going to be high. This puts it at the top end of the market, but any lifelong user of this toothpaste is going to be rewarded with sound dental health for the duration. The modest amount of investment remaining can be used for marketing during the launch campaign to tell people an only slightly exaggerated version of the truth about my toothpaste.
Business Model B – Part 1
I create a toothpaste from very cheap ingredients (which would only be dentally beneficial by coincidence) and add a minty fresh flavouring ingredient, and a bright white paste. Manufacturing predominantly consists of mixing these things together and putting them in a tube, so plant is cheap, as are the unskilled workforce. Just enough is done to satisfy the regulator that I’m not giving everyone mouth cancer. This leaves me with a large chunk of my investment still unspent. Good, because I’ll be using it to blitzkrieg the media with ad campaigns featuring young, attractive people with perfect teeth splashing in sun-soaked waves or skiing in bright-white mountains, with smiles that The Joker would be proud of. Throw in 2.2 perfect kids and a bit of bullshit science, and I’ve positioned my toothpaste as an effective product you can rely on, used by perfect people that real people aspire to be like. Now here’s the clever bit. The pricing. I’m selling what I’ve hoodwinked Jo Public into believing is a high-end, expensive product. I just need to make Jo Public think that it is expensive in the shops they’re not in at the moment. Just this week only, Tesco are doing it on two for one. Next week only, it’ll be 50% off. And so on, until you change the package to an even shinier one, add an extra claim, change the adverts to ones with more convincing science, and add ‘Ultra’ to the name. Same shit – different box.
OK. Of course people will eventually get wise to Business Model B, and switch brands. That’s the power of the free market, if people don’t like it, they’ll vote with their feet. Or will they? This is toothpaste we’re talking about here, remember, not glue. You’re not going to realise the brand of toothpaste you use wasn’t as good as you thought it would be until you’re in your seventies. And then you have no frame of reference for comparison. That last filling you had? Did you blame your toothpaste? Did you go and switch brands? You didn’t. And even if you had . . . . . .
Business Model B – Part 2
Part two is easy. Just set up two or three apparently competing brands working to the same model. There’s only so much room on supermarket shelves for toothpaste.
Question 1: Which business model would give me a bigger return on my investment?
Question 2: Which business model is favoured by the manufacturer of the toothpaste you use?