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April 1, 2009

The Devil Is in the Deodorant

I tend to think of myself as a connoisseur of deodorant. I won't get into the whys and wherefores, but I have been around the block a few times with a variety of brands and formulas, and I like to think I've learned a thing or two along the way. That being said, one of the main things that attracts me to particular products is not their effectiveness but their packaging.

For whatever reason, for example, deodorant manufacturers like stickers--stickers that conveniently peel off the product without tearing, stickers that communicate messages that make no sense whatsoever out of the context of their product. I've blogged about such stickers before, actually (a sticker that read "The Unscented Leader" shaped my understanding of what it means to offer leadership to a group without succumbing to self-congratulation). Some stickers aren't so insightful but are entertaining nonetheless. I currently have the sticker "Powered by Baking Soda" affixed to my phone, and it makes me laugh every time I look at it. Like now--ha ha.

Mitchum is my default deodorant--or should I say the deodorant my wife encourages me to use. We assign different values to Mitchum. She thinks it makes me smell less repulsive, while I find its identity crisis entertaining: the container says one thing; the cap, another.

My current Mitchum cap reads, "If your favorite vegetable is a corn dog, you're a Mitchum(R) man." Who could say no to that? Someone went to the trouble of coming up with something nonsensical and macho as an acknowledgment that many men make purchasing decisions the way I do: they're looking for a laugh wherever they can find one.

(More humorous to me than the joke itself, incidentally, is its context. I associate such silliness with certain themes--the colors and characters, say, of a Captain Morgan rum bottle--not with the austere green and silver, the strong lines and magisterial fonts of a Mitchum container. If Mitchum really wants to win over the unrepentant juvenile, it needs to worry less about creating online armpit orchestras and more about redesigning its logo and signature product. But I digress.)

In my research, I've noticed that if you want to get to know Mitchum, you'd better put on your reading glasses first. They're pretty wordy over there. My current Mitchum product--Smart Solid(TM)--brags about its formula: "With the maximum level of active ingredient." Seven words tucked between the formula name and the scent. Add that to the corn dog joke on the cap and you very nearly run out of fingers and toes to count words with. I suppose, in Mitchum's defense, it's fair to say that if you entertain yourself by doing word counts of deodorant containers, you're probably not a Mitchum man.

Nevertheless, the converse is true: if you're a Mitchum man, you probably don't want to have to read a lot before donning your deodorant. Mitchum, I'd like to suggest, needs an editor. So, how to whittle away at that word count? And how to match the tone on the container that they achieve on their cap?

Here's what I might do. By "maximum level" they probably mean that higher levels would require a prescription, that they would no longer be able to sell their product over the counter if they went any higher, that adding any more active ingredient would violate some law on the books. I can think of two words that communicate that message in significantly edgier terms: "Barely legal."

Titillating, no? I certainly hope that Mitchum doesn't take my advice, but I fear that they might. Nothing captures the unrepentant juvenile imagination quite like the offer of something that is technically not forbidden but the spirit of which clearly is. If I'm reading the powers that be at Mitchum correctly, I suspect they'd agree: if you like being titillated, you're a Mitchum man.

"Barely legal" hardly seems like a value that a Christian sweater such as myself ought to embrace. Really, though, where else could I turn for my hygienic needs? I heard a joke once about a Christian deodorant: "Aglow--the Holy Roll-on." With Aglow you could raise your hands in worship without causing your pewmate to mutter "Pee-ewww." Ha ha. But just using Christian nomenclature doesn't make roll-on holy any more than using the maximum active ingredient makes Mitchum borderline contraband. I think the deodorant that is truly Christian would be distinctly distinct: a Christian deodorant would live in the truth, wouldn't encourage such inane self-identification ("I love corn dogs; this must be the deodorant for me") or make arcane, extreme pronouncements about itself ("Oooh, barely legal; I gotta smear this on my pits"). A truly Christian deodorant would let its "Yes" be "Yes" and its "No" be "No." Any other deodorant is from the devil.

***

Of course I know deodorant is soulless and so can't be Christian. And I'm not making any pronouncements. It's a joke, people. Ha ha. Oh, and congratulations to Mark Eddy Smith for winning this month's "Rabbit" competition, honoring his craft, and acknowledging April Fool's Day all in one pop. You can read his poem at the Rabbit Uber Alles! Facebook group.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 5:24 AM | view full entry

June 11, 2004

The Unscented Leader

By David A. Zimmerman

Leaders are like deodorant. I’m serious. I drew this conclusion in a moment of epiphany as I was anointing my armpits with what my family has affectionately called “stink-juice.” My deodorant had a sticker on it that read “Unscented leader!” Nobody smells less than these folks, apparently, and in the world of deodorant, unscentedness is next to godliness.

I liked the phrase so much that I peeled it from my deodorant stick and stuck it to the back of my PDA, a gentle reminder to myself that if I am to lead, I am to do it in away that doesn’t raise a stink.

After all, unscented leaders are uncommon. We live in a celebrity culture that stretches to big business, to the point where corporate big shots such as Les Moonves (CBS) or Michael Eisner (Disney) or Steve Jobs (Apple) or Jeff Bezos (Amazon.com) are household names.

Such high-profile leaders render their employees anonymous—probably not on purpose, for I’m sure that they recognize the contributions their staff make to their companies’ success. But if you work under a celebrity CEO, you’ll probably find that you punch in each morning and clock out each night, and even your family members, on mention of your company, are more apt to think of your boss than you. Don’t take this personal, all you high-profile CEOs out there, but you smell a little.

But a celebrity culture generates celebrities as a matter of course, as much because we demand to have them as because people strive to be them. The high-profile leader broadcasts the scent a group wants to be known for, and as consumers, we want to know ahead of time whether, for example, we’re going to smell like waterfalls or fire or any such other manly scent. There is, however, an internal odor to leadership that’s more onerous to me: the stink that power can bring to an otherwise collaborative relationship.

There is absolutely a place for leadership in most ventures, I’ll gladly grant. Without coordination a complex task is doomed to failure, and to borrow from the Scriptures, without vision a people perish. But just as deodorant is meant for the armpits and not, say, for the eyeballs, leadership has a specific and limited function in any collaborative effort. The leader who rolls over her subjects without cause impedes the agenda of the group and potentially causes pain and a nasty rash.

Pastor John Ortberg has spoken of church leaders as “leading servants” to convey the idea that they serve the cause of something bigger than them just as their workers do. Similary, Jim Collins in his book Good to Great exhorts leaders to aspire to “level five,” where they see themselves as part of a team earnestly working together toward the same goals rather than seeing themselves as shepherds looking after a bunch of dumb sheep. Their concepts appeal to me as someone who is more often sheep than shepherd: If I’m trying to do my part in a collaborative effort, an unscented leader will do for me what I can’t do for myself but let me do what I can do best, for the good of all of us.

But mostly I like to think of leaders as deodorant because it helps me take them off the pedestal that I or we or they have put them on. Leaders serve a purpose, and I benefit from them when they are adequately serving their purposes. With the right leader applying the right leadership to the right place at the right time, we all come through the toughest problems smelling like a rose.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 3:27 PM | view full entry