LOS ANGELES–In what is believed to be the widest-reaching appeal ever made by an individual on behalf of an oral-hygiene aid, an unidentified man urged millions of people across the U.S. to purchase Listerine-brand antiseptic mouthwash Monday.
The bizarre, nationally televised plea remains unexplained as of press time.
"Why this individual should be so obsessed with oral hygiene as to demand that several million bottles of Listerine be simultaneously purchased is baffling, to say the least," FCC spokesperson Grant Yarborough said. "This gentleman seemed single-mindedly, almost obsessively determined to convince as many people as possible that using Listerine is somehow absolutely essential."
The man, described as a handsome, trustworthy-looking individual in his early 30s, emphatically stressed that Listerine should be purchased over other, inferior mouthwash brands.
His televised appeal, which interrupted regularly scheduled programming on over 350 CBS affiliates, occurred at 9:08 p.m. EST, just a few short minutes into a broadcast of the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond.
The FCC attempted to pinpoint the source of the transmission in the hopes of tracking down the mystery man, but were unable to trace the signal, which appeared to be coming in on the same signal-feed as the CBS affiliates' normal broadcasts. How he was capable of breaking into the broadcast remains unexplained.
"I couldn't believe it," said Deborah Dunning, a Des Moines, IA, homemaker and one of approximately 20 million people who witnessed the mass-purchase call. "Right in the middle of my favorite show, this man appears and starts talking about the germ-killing power of Listerine. It was the strangest thing I'd ever seen."
"Whoever the Mouthwash Man is, he is clearly a force to be reckoned with," said U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, who has appointed a special blue-ribbon task force to investigate the incident. "This unidentified figure possesses access to some of the most advanced satellite-communications technology and seemingly unlimited resources with which to pursue his nefarious ends. What his ultimate objective is, we still cannot say. But we are determined to find out."
What baffles experts most is why a person with the power to reach millions would choose to present an oral-hygiene-related message.
"It's certainly no secret that an antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine is a tremendously useful tool in killing the germs that cause bad breath, germs that lurk in those hard-to-reach spots between teeth that toothbrushes can't get to," Harvard University communications professor Milton Schaub said. "I am at a loss, however, as to why anyone would consider such information so significant as to necessitate the disrupting of a national television broadcast. Frankly, the implications of this event are nothing short of terrifying."
Many observers have suggested that the Listerine-advocating man, who delivered his address wearing a towel while standing in what appeared to be an ordinary bathroom, may have had an ulterior motive for urging the mass purchase.
"Perhaps he had some sort of financial stake in the vast amounts of money that such a mass mouthwash purchase might generate," said noted therapist Dr. Eli Wasserbaum. "Or, the great depth of his convictions about Listerine could indicate a bizarre fetishization of the mouthwash. Such an obsession could be so intense that it has blocked out all other considerations in his fevered mind. Or, as some of my colleagues have suggested, he may be working in collusion with other pro-mouthwash parties."
Regardless of the man's motives, many Americans chose to follow his instructions: In the 12-hour period following the incident, more than 50,000 bottles of Listerine were sold nationwide.
"I figured, if he's important enough to appear on TV in front of millions of people, he must know what he's talking about," said Sylvia Rainier of Cos Cob, CT. "You can bet I bought a bottle as soon as possible."
Though Rainier was by no means the only one to obey the man on TV, the vast majority of viewers were unmoved by his plea. As a result, some experts fear that the man will return at some point in the near future and make the same demand again–possibly repeatedly–until his call for a mass purchase in the millions is heeded.
In the meantime, authorities are no closer to understanding the incident.
"I'm at a loss," said U.S. Commerce Undersecretary Stephen Borstein. "How can one make sense of something so inherently absurd? A man comes on television out of nowhere, right in the middle of a program, advocating the purchase of millions of bottles of a particular mouthwash. Then, before you've had time to absorb it all, the plea ends and Everybody Loves Raymond comes on again. There can be no rational explanation for such a thing. It's as if the whole world's gone crazy."