Monday, October 27, 2008

The most influential commercials ever?

I grew up in the 1960's watching what are now considered vintage television commercials. I have vague memories of Winston cigarette and Maxwell House coffee commercials from the good old days, but one line of commercials remains permanently stamped in my mind. I remember bits of the old commercials for Raid insect killer as if I had seen them last week.

In those commercials the bugs were all evil villains bent on making life miserable for Helen housewife. But she always got her revenge. Typically the bugs ran into (what they think was) the safety of a wall or other nook, only to be followed by the Raid cloud of doom. They died violently screaming "RAID!" as the deadly cloud descended.

One of the great things about the Internet is the chance it gives us to recall these old trivial bits of our heritage. In this vintage footage from YouTube, the Johnson Wax folks sympathetically provide gravestones for the hoardes of dead bugs.

I'm pretty sure these commercials had a subtle but deep, psychological impact on a generation of Americans. I think we all cherish the notion that even if we can't stop war, or end racial strife, or even silence the neighbor's barking dog, at least we can control the creepy bugs that pester us. Perhaps that's the psychological power behind these old commercials. Whatever the reason, the psychology must have worked because Raid is still with us, and a new generation of updated commercials continues the genre (e.g., the Orkin man commercials).
This way of thinking, however, continues to create problems for those of us today who promote integrated pest management (IPM). To most Americans, pest control means "killing bugs dead" (the old Raid mantra). The idea that it might be more effective to modify the environment to make it less conducive to pests is, frankly, boring, and not nearly as entertaining as the fog of death.

In a twist of irony, the bugs appear to be winning at least one front in the bug bomb war. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control looked at illnesses and injuries caused by TRFs (total release foggers) in eight states over six years (2001-2006). They found over 466 human injuries that appeared to be the result of overexposure to TRFs. Most (80%) of the incidents were considered low in severity, with 2% resulting in severe health impact or death.

The top causes for illness include inability or failure to vacate the premises before the TRF went off, coming back to the treated area too soon, unintentional discharge of the TRF, or setting off too many foggers at the same time. It seem that in many, or most cases, exposures occur because consumers don't follow label directions properly. The CDC notes in their recommendations that "IPM control strategies that prevent pests' access to food, water, and shelter need to be promoted and adopted. In addition, awareness of the hazards and proper use of TRFs need to be better communicated on TRF labels and in public media campaigns."

This is good advice, and something that pest control professionals should pass on to their customers. Doug VanGundy with Zoecon Corporation, a long-time manufacturer of less toxic pesticides (including some foggers) notes that TRF don't get nearly the kind of penetration into pest hideouts that the old Raid ads might suggest. "Today's water-based formulations don't produce the small particle sizes of earlier generation foggers," he said. "Although we believe foggers are still a viable product for consumers, professional application of insecticides via crack and crevice treatments and outdoor perimeter treatments to keep pests outdoors are probably best for most situations."
It's important to remember that foggers are designed principally for flying insects, or those on exposed surfaces. Fogging a home or apartment is just as likely to drive pests temporarily into harborages, or even cause them to spread to neighboring units. This would be especially true for cockroaches and bed bugs, who spend most of their time in cracks and crevices with little air exchange.

The old pesticide ads may be entertaining, but they're not good pest control. Foggers may have a place, but if you misuse them or expect them to solve all your insect problems the insects will be the last ones laughing.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Mike. It's one of the great fears of pest managers everywhere — the abuse of their tools causes them to be completely ineffective. Nice post — keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

My name is Jeffrey and I share Mike’s interest in the Raid commercials. Last week I created my own discussion group about them on Flickr called Raid Bug Drama. All my messages until the two yesterday are pretty long. I will re-write them on this site breaking 1 message up into 2 or 3 to make them less time-consuming but also help people get the full picture of the topic.
Here’s the link:
If you want a clearer view of the group’s purpose, read About Raid Bug Drama and maybe my topic Welcome to New Members. Thanks to anyone who’s interested and a bigger thanks to Mike for wanting to help me share my views.

Anonymous said...

Mugsy 86

This is the same person above. Would like to invite folks to check out some cute little stories on my website about four individual Raid bug characters: Pierre, Needles, Muffy and Mugsy. All of them are fairly short. Only the first part of Muffy and Mugsy stories are posted and there are 2 or 3 others to come. I'm sure we humans can all identify with what these four bugs and their friends went through since they are very similar to the problems many of us face. Anyway, please check them out or if someone would like me to repeat them on this site, I could do that too. Here's the link again: Thank you.

Anonymous said...


For the first time in a while, I just reread Mike's posting above and there's a couple things I should say. First the commercials had a different affect on me than Mike. I see the bug characters as cute little munchkins trying to make their way in the world and protect theirselves. Granted they do have a naughty way about them, but humans can commit murder and often get off scott free and these cute little bugs get the death penalty ALL THE TIME for bugging people, stealing a little food, spreading a couple germs, etc. It's so unfair! If you want a broader view of this, the link for my site is in the posts above. Further, I have something to say on the reality front about the roaches and the foggers, but I'll give it next time. Have to keep these short.

Anonymous said...

Mugsy '86

This is the second half of my comment on Mike's post above. It is true that Integrated Pest Management isn't as exciting as hunting them mercilessly as in the Raid ads, but IPM is certainly the RIGHT thing to do. We have to remember that bugs were put here for a reason and have the right to live, even if they're not useful as I believe they ALL are in some way. Let's take roaches as example since they are my favorite. They can help cure cancer, predict hurricanes, heal bone fractures, pollinate plants, and more. If anyone wants more information or my sources, let me know. Plus foggers can devestate them sometimes. My landlord bombed twice in 1988 and I saw hundreds on their backs with their antennae and legs wiggling, looking so helpless and defenseless. NOONE can tell me after seeing that that bugs don't have feelings. That itself should be enough reason to find more humane methods rather than kill, kill, kill EVEN IF THEY WERE'NT ANY GOOD WHICH THEY ARE.