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HICKS: Truth in ads a bit too much

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I never thought I'd miss Mr. Whipple. You remember him - the character played by Dick Wilson whose famous admonition, "Please don't squeeze the Charmin," was meant to embarrass hundreds of sufferers of a secret toilet paper obsession who staked out the aisles of grocery stores to grope rolls of irresistibly soft paper products.

Back in his heyday, I thought Mr. Whipple was hokey and the people who created the character cornier, still. Who sits around thinking of an imaginary grocer who catches housewives midsqueeze with a package of TP?

It turns out the people who thought of the Mr. Whipple ads for Charmin are a whole lot more genteel than the folks who now produce the company's advertising. At least the old team knew when to use euphemisms to describe the benefits of their product.

Quite simply, the current ads, featuring two annoying and overly graphic cartoon bears demonstrating the coarser points of personal hygiene, offer us consumers too much information. To wit: Last night, while drifting off to sleep in front of the television, I awoke to a voice assuring me that Charmin leaves less paper behind on the ... er ... well ... behind.

Let's all respond together: Yuck.

I don't think the Charmin ads contribute much to the decision-making process when choosing toilet tissue, but I do think they are chipping away at civilization as we know it.

Hyperbole? Perhaps.

Or perhaps there are some subjects that do not benefit from full and open discourse in the marketplace but rather whose mere mention only undermines our standards of decency and erodes any semblance of social decorum.

Whether a toilet tissue leaves remnants of itself on the user of said product strikes me as one such topic.

Sadly, the Charmin ads are among so many that exploit our privacy in search of the almighty consumer dollar.

Not long ago, while (thankfully) alone in the car listening to an all-country subscription radio station, I was subjected to what at first sounded like a comedy routine, albeit a tasteless one.

The vignette featured two middle-aged men and included this (paraphrased) exchange (Fair warning - this is not for children.):

"Hey, Bill, you're in a great mood today. That can mean only one thing."

"That's right, Ed. Last night I enjoyed an entire evening of the most incredible sex you can imagine."

Bill goes on to explain, in excruciating detail, the benefits of the all-natural supplement responsible for his improved performance and subsequent cheerful disposition.

After about 30 seconds, when it was clear that this was not an attempt at humor but rather a bona fide commercial message, I changed the station while shouting, "Have you no shame?" at the knobs on my radio.

Obviously in advertising, there is no shame. Thus we are stuck with a host of ads that ask us, too directly, about our experiences of regularity or irregularity, our continence or lack thereof, whether our ears are full of wax or our nasal passages are full of mucus, or we're able to enjoy timely and satisfying sex - all posed with convenient solutions that no longer require a private consultation with a physician or a pharmacist or even our mothers.

Leading us all to conclude - and most importantly, leading an entire generation of children to surmise - that there is no such thing as a topic requiring discretion.

When Mr. Whipple decried those who would squeeze the too-soft Charmin, we all knew why softness was a good thing. No explanation necessary.

Enough said.

•Visit Marybeth Hicks at www.marybethhicks.com.

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