Monday, March 25, 2013

A Sparkling Drop of Retsyn

"A sparkling drop of retsyn."

The phrase comes from a television ad campaign that was airing in 1968, the year the Viet-Nam War was at its peek; the year of the Tet Offensive and our most concentrated attacks on infamous Ho Chi-Minh Trail. * 

I was in 7th grade at the time and watched enough television to have this marketing slogan pop into my head forty-five years later as I lay in bed before a open window enjoying the cool evening air and reflecting on the beauty of the Tasman Bridge, its illuminated arch etched gracefully behind the empty masts of anchored sailing ships asleep on the still waters of Lindisfarne Bay. 

Who can possibly under estimate the manipulative, mind-altering power of media and advertising? 

And who will try the first civil case for damages inflicted on unsuspecting workers repetitively exposed to a daily assault of commercials, jingles, and pop music raining down from ceiling sound systems in department stores across America?

Who will put the first dollar figure on the cost of psychotherapy and related treatments? The  value associated with lost productivity from lethargy, irritability and sick days that result from depression and anxiety exacerbated by this kind of unrelenting audio conditioning?  (See "High Fidelity" Nick Hornby Victor Gollancz LTD 1995.  Narrator attributes his teen depression to the pop music he listened to). 

Consider the long list of suicides and drug overdoses of rock circuit performers forced to play the same emotionally debilitating, mind numbing songs, night after night to audiences “programmed to receive.” (Name that tune!) Could these untimely deaths be rooted in chronic self-medication to escape the torment of the very music they promote?  And what of those who have survived?  Just look at Ozzy Osborne.  Do you think he was born that way?    

Anyway, in 1956 some ad agency suggested to the American Chicle Company that if they wanted to manufacture a breath mint that would really sell, they had to come up with something different, something special, something better than just a plain old mint.  It had to contain something powerful, something magical, something that no other mint could possibly recreate.  In other words, what they needed was a secret ingredient.

So down to the candy lab went the wise men of the board, and to their head candy cook they announced,

“We need something new.  Something powerful, something magical, something no other breath mint could possibly recreate and we need you to invent it for us now!”

The cook wiped his hands on his apron and said, “Sure, just give me a minute.” 

Down from the shelf he took a box of sugar, and into a bowl he spooned a bit.  Then from over by a big cast iron stove, loaded with bubbling pots of sweet smelling solutions, he grabbed a bottle of partially hydrogenated cotton seed oil, a staple in any candy maker’s kitchen.  Into the bowl went a healthy dash.  A few seasonings, perhaps used in the classic Chiclet or spicy stick of Dentyne may have been added.  After all, both were company owned brands.   But it wasn't until the head candy cook reached beneath the sink and pulled out a big jar of copper gluconate and shook a liberal dose of the blue crystals into the bowl, that the mysterious mixture became the sparkling drop that would be added to each and every Certs lozenge.

“Voila” said Brooklyn born cook in his best French accent, “ I geeve yew, RETSYN!”

It sounded almost space age.  Retsyn, like that family of cartoon astronauts that would soon come to TV called “The Jetsons."  Yeah, Certs caught on in a flash.  It was as the ad said, “two mints in one.”  It had twice the punch and double the value.   A breath sanitizer and sweet treat within one tightly rolled, twelve serving wrapper.  

Remember, this product came from a company once owned by a doctor who understood that medicine didn’t have to taste bad to be good.  His name was Dr. Edwin Beeman.  He was a research scientist who was in awe of the incredible variety of garbage his pet pigs could eat while displaying not the least bit of gastro intestinal discomfort.  So the doctor took to analyzing the stomach juices that aided his pigs’ superlative digestion. 

Low and behold, after months of late nights in sty and in lab, Dr. Beeman managed to isolate the enzyme pepsin, which in repeated tests, appeared to work wonders in relieving human indigestion.  Unfortunately, his attempt to market pepsin as Pepsin, a soothing elixir extracted from the stomach lining of hogs, just didn’t go over well with consumers.  Dumbfounded, he confided to young shop keeper his bewilderment with why such a worthy product was such a failure.  The clerk just smiled and said,

“I bet it would sell if it tasted like bubble gum.”

So Dr. Beeman invented Pepsin Chewing Gum for the bloated, overwrought belly and sell it did!  Before long, the product caught the attention of William White, owner of Wm. White & Son, the largest chewing gum manufacturer in the world.  He bought Beeman out, and by 1919 had constructed a two million dollar plant under the masthead of the American Chicle Company.  American Chicle was responsible for a lot of American chewing gum standards, Chiclets, Dentyne, Clorets to name only a few.

After Certs became America’s number one breath mint, Warner- Lambert Pharmaceutical Company, flush with cash from their ever expanding drug sales, added American Chicle to their acquisition list.  Accustom to shipping its pharmaceuticals worldwide, tariff fee, Warner- Lambert took the US Customs office to court for classifying Certs as candy and subjecting them to international shipping duties. Come-on guys, this was Certs, America’s very own “two mints in one”!  Each lozenge contains a single, sparkling drop of retsyn, odor eater and oral bacteria cleanser. Certs is breath medicine made to taste good.

Unfortunately, since most of what goes into Certs is simply refined sugar, the Customs people didn’t see it that way. But thank goodness for mom, apple pie and well-heeled lawyers.

Arguing that the chemicals in restyn stimulated the salivary glands, releasing heighten levels of this natural cleanser, the attorneys for Warner-Lambert convinced the appeals court to forget the sugar and focus on the medicinal values of retsyn.  In the end, the lower court’s decision was reversed, and Certs, the breath mint that contained no mint, became the equivalent of a true pharmaceutical, imported and exported without the burden of profit-sharing tariffs.

With tax encumbrances removed, Certs became an even more popular commodity.  Pfizer, a global leader in drug manufacturing and sales, appreciated what a sweet addition Certs would be to its nearly endless list of medicinal, mouth freshening products.  In June 2000, the deal was done and Warner Lambert and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals merged forces, creating the most valuable and fastest growing drug company in the world.

Ah, that sparkling drop of Retsyn!  It must really be magic!

The ad:

* On November 11, 1968, Operation Commando Hunt was initiated by the U.S. and its allies. The goal of the operation was to interdict men and supplies on the Ho Chi Minh trail, through Laos into South Vietnam. By the end of the operation, three million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos, which slowed but did not consistently disrupt trail operations.

The North Vietnamese also used the Ho Chi Minh Trail to send soldiers to the south. At times, as many as 20,000 soldiers a month came from Hanoi by this way. In an attempt to stop this traffic, it was suggested that a barrier of barbed wire and minefields, called the McNamara Line, should be built. The plan was abandoned in 1967 after repeated attacks by the NLF on those involved in constructing the barrier.

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