By Vicki Hughes Posted May 27, 2013
I am convinced that in the seventies, there were marketing geniuses at work for Bonnie Bell Cosmetics. They systematically talked me out of my folded money and quarters I’d earned from rubbing my Dad’s feet. I was in the fifth grade, and spent most of my time with my best friend Chrissy.
Fifth grade girls have a hardwired need for a best friend. It’s when we start noticing the extreme differences between ourselves and other girls, and the ache of that sends us out on a hunt for that other girl who makes us feel safe, and happy, and un-weird. She’s the person you can talk to about nothing or everything in the five minutes you wait for the bus. She’s the person who knows why your hands get sweaty in the lunch line when a certain blonde-haired boy gets in line in front of you. She sits on your bed and looks at album covers with you, while you fold a paper fortune teller out of a sheet of notebook paper.
Chrissy and I lived on the same street in sunny Arcadia, California, home of Santa Anita racetrack, at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. We rode our bikes back and forth between our houses, and to the shady, green park at the end of our street to watch her little brother Jeff play little league. There, we sat on bleachers, in an aromatic cloud of cooking hotdogs and dust from the boys running bases. We would systematically nibble on our candy necklaces, biting carefully into the centers with our eye teeth to keep from getting the dreaded “sticky neck.”
A few short blocks from the park was a shopping center where those Bonnie Bell geniuses pedaled their wares. There was a record store, Jackpot Records, a McDonalds, where we anxiously awaited the spring arrival of the Shamrock Shake, and pooled our Monopoly pieces to try to win stuff. And there was Save-On Drugs, home of my very first addiction to cosmetics, the Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker.
The geniuses at Bonnie Bell knew a thing or two about pre-pubescent girls. Primarily, they like to collect things and they like to put stuff that tastes good on their lips because they are imagining kissing boys if they can ever quit giggling. These marketing geniuses figured out that if they kept their price point reasonable, girls would part with their foot rub and car washing money in order to own the latest and greatest flavor they could come up with, no matter how disgusting it might be.
I had a collection that included watermelon, black cherry, caramel corn, sugar plum, Dr. Pepper, and green apple. There was also one in a dark green tube that was so “gross,” I had to hide it in a bottom drawer, but still somehow couldn’t throw it away. This may explain the fourteen lipsticks I own today, but never use.
I saw some Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers at the store the other day. I noticed a couple things that had changed, and it made me wonder if their sales were down compared to when I was a regular customer. First, the tubes are smaller, meaning they are the same size as a regular tube of Chapstick. In the throes of my addiction, they were big, maybe two to three times bigger than the regular lip balms. They were so big they never ran out. You could use one to lube the chassis on a Chevy Impala and still have plenty left over. Now, they don’t stand out from the crowd. Today they’re packaged on a cardboard backer with a clear plastic bubble over the front. You can’t even smell them. I know, because I tried but that plastic bubble was in the way. It was the smelling that always sucked us into the deal.
The lady behind the counter at Save On Drugs, did double duty, dipping ice cream cones, and like a savvy carnie at the local fair, called out to those of us passing by, by simply jiggling the keys to the sliding doors of the glass display case. Inside that glass lived our beloved Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers. We’d stand there, shifting from one foot to the other, contemplating the new arrivals. Oooh! Candy Apple! “Can we smell that one, please?” And then, as if she were pulling out a black pillow bearing engagement rings, she would present us with the goods. Slowly, she would remove the cap, and waft it back and forth under our noses. We’d stare at the sheen at the top of the tube, unused, perfect in every way. And then we’d dig our hands down into our jeans pockets to make sure we had enough cash, after french fries, to make the deal.
The next day at school was our opportunity to be everyone’s best friend. It was the thrill of having a new Lip Smacker, which good manners dictated we let all the other girls smell at recess. As we all know, you only let your best friend actually use your Lip Smackers, because she clearly does not have any cooties. If one of the other girls was so crass as to break the code, right there in front of you, well, then you were forced to give her a dirty look and scrape the top layer off in disgust. I mean really. No one can be quite as condescending as a fifth grade girl. It’s in the handbook and everything.
© Vicki Hughes 2013