How Indian Deodorant Advertisers Have Convinced Us That We Smell Bad

Just as flossing wasn’t always a part of our regular oral hygiene routine, the use of deodorants and antiperspirants was almost alien to Indians just 2 to 3 decades ago. With our tropical climate and high population density, the environment was perfect for the use of products aimed at controlling body odor and perspiration. But, do we smell any better today, sweat any less, or are deodorants just about as effective as floss is for dental hygiene!? More importantly, do all of us really need to use odor control products?

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The Quest To Smell Good

“Indian manufacturers and advertisers have convinced men that they will only be able to find mates, have a sex life, or be attractive if they smell good all the time! Not surprisingly, male body odor products account for 70 percent of Indian deodorant market sales”

Our obsession with masking body odor is actually just as unnatural and unhealthy as our fixation with body image. Both trends have generated huge profits for cosmetic manufacturers, with India’s deodorant market size growing from just INR 500 crores in 2009, to a whopping INR 2,300 crores in just 5 years. Two years ago, deodorant manufacturers were already spending an estimated INR 400 crores on advertising. So, it’s no surprise that advertisers fueled this paranoia about bad body odor affecting your social life, work life, and most notably your love life.

In the United States, when deodorants and antiperspirants made their first appearance, they were marketed by denigrating women, making them feel like they would be undesirable and unfeminine if they permeate body odor. Despite the backlash from women, it tapped into female insecurities and business boomed. Indian manufacturers and advertisers have used the same unscrupulous marketing techniques, convincing most men that they will only be able to find mates, have a sex life, or be attractive to others if they smell good all the time! As unbelievable as it may sound, years of marketing have ingrained this idea into the Indian male psyche. This is why around 70 percent of Indian deodorant market sales are attributed to male products.

By transforming and marketing a cosmetic or hygiene product as a broader lifestyle product, deodorant advertisers boosted sales and left us fixated with body odor. Initial advertisements, especially by Axe, worked to glamorize deodorants, creating the impression of deodorants as a magic bait for women! Yes, sex sells and this strategy reaped huge dividends for the industry – adolescent teens were obviously most vulnerable to the marketing and they formed the main base of consumers at the start. Today, deodorants have come to be viewed as grooming essentials. This was also part of a deliberate ploy to get men to use other grooming products. Deodorants basically served as gateway grooming products, just as alcohol sometimes works as a gateway drug, with some users progressing to harsher drugs!

Do We Really Need Deodorants & Antiperspirants?

“Scientists have identified a specific gene that causes body odor, but this gene is not present in everyone and most of us simply do not need to use deodorants”

While body odor may affect a large segment of the population, most of us simply do not need to use deodorants. Nevertheless, almost every millennial today worries about body odor and uses some kind of body odor control. A study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology revealed that underarm odor is determined by the presence of a specific gene called ABCC11. While the gene is more prevalent in certain racial groups, it is rather uncommon among Asians, especially East Asians. The same study also highlighted that three fourths of those without the (smelly) gene still use deodorants because they believe they may have odor. Yes, marketers have convinced many that even if they can’t smell the odor, others around can!

Keep in mind that deodorants and antiperspirants can also pose a health risk. Research into their use throws up disturbing findings, such as changes in microbial balance of the armpit, as well as a potential increase in breast cancer risk. Whether or not these risks are proven beyond a shadow of doubt, you can rest assured that your obsession over body odor will only increase deodorant manufacturer profits, while increasing your health risks.

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