The Toothpaste Effect

Posted: April 17, 2017 in Advertising, Consumerism, Culture, Industrial Collapse, Taste
Tags: , , ,

Even before I begin, you must know what the title means. It’s the proliferation of options that induces dread in the toothpaste aisle of the store. Paste or gel? Tartar control or extra whitening? Plain, mint, cinnamon, or bubble gum? The matrix of combinations is enough to reduce the typical shopper to a quivering state of high anxiety lest the wrong toothpaste be bought. Oh, how I long for the days when choices ran solely between plain Crest and Colgate. I can’t say whether the toothpaste effect originated with oral hygiene. A similarly bewildering host of choices confronts shoppers in the soft drink aisle. Foodstuffs seem especially prone to brand fragmentation. Woe be the retailer forced to shelve all 38 Heinz products on this page. (True, some are just different packaging of the same basic item, but still.)

Purveyors of alcoholic beverages are on the bandwagon, too. I rather like the bygone cliché of the cowboy/gunslinger riding off the range, swinging into the saloon, and ordering simply “whisky.” Nowadays, even a poorly stocked bar is certain to have a dozen or so whiskys (see this big brand list, which doesn’t include sub-brands or craft distillers.) Then come all the varieties of schnapps, rum, and vodka, each brand further fragmented with infusions and flavorings of every imaginable type. Some truly weird ones are found here. Who knew that these spirits were simply blank canvases awaiting the master distiller’s crazy inventiveness?

/rant on

What really gets my bile flowing on this issue, however, is the venerable Lays potato chip. Seriously, Frito-Lay, what are you thinking? You arguably perfected the potato chip, much like McDonald’s perfected the French fry. (Both are fried potato, interestingly.) Further, you have a timeless, unbeatable slogan: “betcha can’t eat just one.” The plain, salted chip, the “Classic” of the Lays brand, cannot be improved upon and is a staple comfort food. Yet you have succumbed to the toothpaste effect and gone haywire with flavorings (I won’t even countenance the Wavy, Poppables, Kettle-Cooked, Ruffles, and STAX varieties). For variety’s sake, I’d be content with a barbecue chip, maybe even salt & vinegar, but you’ve piled on past the point of ridiculousness:

  • cheddar & sour cream (a favorite of mine)
  • Chile limón
  • deli style
  • dill pickle
  • flamin’ hot
  • honey barbecue
  • limón
  • pico de gallo
  • salt & vinegar (not to my taste)
  • sour cream & onion (a good alternative)
  • sweet Southern heat barbecue
  • Southern biscuits & gravy
  • Tapatío (salsa picante)

Scouring the InterTubes, I also found, in no particular order, the following flavors:

  • Southwestern queso (tried them, too hot)
  • beer ‘n’ brats (tried them, not bad at all)
  • sweet, sour, spicy, salty pork
  • lobster hot plate
  • cheese and chili
  • sweet basil
  • hot chili squid
  • salmon creme cheese
  • nori seaweed
  • grilled chili
  • mushroom
  • New York Reuben
  • West Coast truffle fries
  • cappuccino
  • finger-lickin’ braised pork
  • cheddar bacon Mac & Cheese
  • mango salsa
  • natural & cool kiwi
  • caviar
  • Pepsi chicken
  • cheesy garlic bread (tried them, meh)
  • chicken & waffles
  • Sriracha
  • creamy garlic Caesar
  • spicy ketchup
  • crab spice
  • bacon poutine
  • blueberry
  • classic BLT
  • hot & sour fish soup
  • maple moose
  • butter chicken
  • cowboy BBQ beans
  • PEI scalloped potatoes
  • Montreal smoked meats
  • cinnamon bun
  • cherry tomato
  • smokey bacon
  • numb & spicy hot pot
  • salmon teriyaki
  • French chicken
  • roast chicken
  • Mexican tomato chicken
  • prawn cocktail
  • lemon tea
  • wasabi
  • Italian red meat
  • lychee
  • roasted red chili & coriander
  • fried okra & gravy
  • magic masala
  • mint mischief
  • cucumber
  • garlic softshell crab
  • curry
  • grilled cheese & ketchup
  • butter garlic scallop
  • ham, creme cheese & herbs
  • perogy platter
  • balsamic sweet onion
  • chipotle ranch
  • tangy Carolina BBQ
  • garden tomato & basil
  • honey mustard
  • creamy garden ranch
  • creamy Mediterranean herb
  • harvest ranch
  • hickory barbecue
  • Maui onion
  • mesquite barbecue
  • Parmesan and Tuscan herb
  • orange juice & toothpaste

That last one sounds like a joke, but here’s the bag:


Turns out that last is a joke. Frito-Lay has been running a flavor contest on and off for several years under the banner Do Us a Flavor, which has inspired some satirists. It’s also attracted a mountain of submissions and inadvertently shown that I’ve been living under a rock. Damn you, Frito-Lay, for proving how fatally unhip I am.

/rant off

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