Girl with Pearl Drops Toothpaste
“Girl With Pearl Drops Toothpaste” (1978)
One of the finest of Ed Kligenstein’s commercials for Doyle Dane Bernbach, this sixty-second spot creates a mood defined by the radiant, all-American glow of the girl as she turns toward the viewer to hawk the tooth-whitening product. Her ash-blonde hair and the blue blouse that clings to her ample teenage bosom enhance her completely disarming row of glistening teeth.
In a departure from the time-honored practice of TV toothpaste ads, Klingenstein has eschewed the usual white background, instead placing the girl in front of a plain black wall that suggests the blackboard of a high-school classroom. Instead of the traditional headshot (as in the classic Close-Up commercial featuring a young John Travolta), the money shot here presents a bust-length portrait of the girl, her body accentuated by the three-dimensional effect of the receding dark background.
In its immediacy and image, “Girl With Pearl Drops Toothpaste” demonstrates how different Klingenstein’s approach was from other commercial directors’ of the period. Avoiding an extreme close-up, the camera relies on the actress’s subtle gaze to suggest an altogether fresh but somewhat bratty demeanor that could indicate that we are in the presence of a girl who would not be caught dead with Marlboro-stained teeth.
Also evident is the patient manner Klingenstein must have employed doing the shoot; here, the TV does not merely delineate the forms of youthful bleached incisors but instead embodies and defines them.
Klingenstein’s lines are even more freely executed, as when the girl asks the viewer, “How do your teeth feel?” and, barely waiting for the reply, suggestively flicks her tongue over the top row of her spotless teeth and intones the timeless Pearl Drops slogan, “Mmmm… It’s a great feeling.” The composition of these five words, coming immediately after the flitting tongue movement, creates an unforgettable icon, complete with fresh breath, a sparkling smile, and an invitation to a kiss.
While the girl’s pose suggest a portrait, the features here are purified so that the viewer does not think the actress represents a specific female; instead she is presented as an idealized version of the American teenage girl. This refined figure of Klingenstein’s mature work for DDB stands as an eternal reminder of his place in 20th Century advertising.