Those Old School Ads For Canoe Cologne Probably Say More About Us Than We’d Like to Admit

Just, wow.

Jill Francis

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An empty, glass bottle of perfume sitting in beach sand.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Look. I know that I have many advanced degrees–one of which, if I remember correctly, was bestowed upon me by an Ivy League institution. And I probably should be using my research and analysis skills to do something important like dissect cryptocurrency which Joshua Edward does exceedingly well over on his page. Instead, I found myself completely absorbed in doing a meta-analysis of the advertising campaigns of a drugstore-tier cologne that you might pick up with a twin-pack of Metamucil and a can of cocktail peanuts.

I repeat: I am going to talk about Canoe. A fragrance that would set you back five US dollars at the height of its fame back in 1970 and is currently described (per the user forum on Fragrantica.com) as a cologne that must have been pretty good because Tony Danza wore it.

I have no excuse for myself except that the world is a trashfire and this will make you giggle for like, five minutes so let me have a little fun, will ya? Let’s do this.

Once I found the 1981 version of the commercial on YouTube that I remembered for its sensual, yet nonsensical question, “Can you Canoe?”, I needed to know more. I had a feeling that I was going to learn more about humanity than could be contained in a 20-second spot, and I was prepared to hold my eyeballs open by any means necessary. I wanted to know what message Dana (the parent company of Canoe and other tacky-fabulous scents like Love’s Baby Soft, Tabu, English Leather, and Chantilly) was trying to convey with its mix of breezy boating vibes and chest hair. I wanted to understand what on God’s green Earth would compel a person to purchase a cologne based on the promise that it would allow a man to wave flags in semaphore style in order to attract women who enjoy a seafaring vessel and light hostage-taking.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. To deeply understand what is wrong with this, and what’s wrong with us, we have to go back to the original commercials from the early 1960s. (I promise that every video in this article is 30 seconds or less.)

First off, there are two versions of the black-and-white commercial and the differences between them are fascinating. Check out this one…

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Jill Francis

American immigrant in Italy with too many degrees in Psychology. I write about everything I’m afraid of. jillfranciswrites@gmail.com