Nowadays when a boy reaches puberty, apart from the age-old signs such as hair growing in places it never grew before, a deepening of the voice and increased genitalia size, a young man celebrates his passage into adult life by getting a Burberry baseball cap, a knife, an Uzi and the nearest 14-year old girl pregnant.
But back in the 1970’s things were much simpler. When a boy reached adolescence he could look forward to getting ‘Showaddywaddy’ LPs instead of the ‘Partridge Family’, a Mattel Vertibird to replace his ageing Airfix Flight Deck and perhaps most importantly of all, a bottle of Hai Karate Aftershave.
Before the 70’s if a young man wanted to impress his girlfriend with an odour slightly more pleasing than a Neanderthal’s crotch after they’d been chased for an hour by a Woolly Mammoth, they were faced with the bewildering choice of ‘Old Spice’ or, errhh! ‘Old Spice’. But a 70’s youth was faced with an amazing array of fragrances lead by the Market leader ‘Brut 33’ and closely followed by ‘Hai Karate’. But whereas the mighty Brut had an advertising campaign starring such Superstars of the day as Henry “Hammer” Cooper, Kevin “Bubble-Perm” Keegan and John “Piss-Head” Conteh, the Hai Karate adverts had a plot line which made the average ‘Carry On’ film look like a slightly more than complex ‘Shawshank Redemption’.
Basically the ads started off with a Nerdy looking bespectacled Geek liberally dousing himself with Hai Karate and then going for a walk, or in later ads, going to the Hospital or somewhere else equally mundane. It was then that fantasy kicked in! Geek Head always managed to bump into the same voluptuous, busty Brunette who, overwhelmed by the amazing potency of Hai Karate, turned from a respectable passer-by into a sex-craved Nymphomaniac. Our Geek hero would then proceed to attempt to fight her off with a series of pathetic Martial Art manoeuvres before finally succumbing to her insatiable fragrance fuelled sexual frenzy.
In later ads the busty femme-fatal would be cunningly disguised as a Dental Nurse, or a Librarian or a Traffic Warden, but the plot remained the same and Nerd always submitted to her ‘charms’!
But like other 70’s favourites, such as the ‘Stylophone’, the ‘Space Hopper’ and ‘Johnny Astro’, reality didn’t quite match the advertising hype. Hai Karate smelt like Shit! An initial sniff of the contents of the bottle with it’s Japanese characters (which I’m reliably informed actually says “This smells like Cat’s piss*”) delighted the sniffer with a bouquet that resembled a hideous combination of Vinegar, Ammonia and Mixed Spices. But this didn’t really matter as within seconds the fumes would destroy every smell gland within the victim’s nose leading to a complete loss of smell! Thankfully this was only a temporary condition and a sense of smell would normally return within a couple of days.
Of course to a woman, rather than bring on an insatiable desire for sex, which they were willing to fight for, Hai Karate would just bring on an insatiable desire to vomit and a fight to keep down the contents of their stomach!
Thankfully by the end of the 70’s and early 80’s, young men were beginning to be offered the first of the true “Designer” fragrances such as ‘Paco Robanne’ and ‘Jazz’ and so Hai Karate largely became consigned to the bargain baskets, although every Christmas the cheap stores would invariably contain hundreds of Hai Karate gift sets which normally combined the 100ml bottle of Aftershave with either Talc, Body Spray or Soap on a Rope or if you were really unlucky all three! In fact in 1982 I actually gave my dad a Hai Karate gift set for Christmas only to receive it back for my Birthday in February! Served me right I suppose!
However, now, like most things from the 70’s, Hai Karate is looked back on with affection by those who for many it was their first experience of trying to smell good for a girl and this combined with the deliberately comical advertising campaign has ensured that Hai Karate is and always will remain a 70’s icon.
The images placed on this page were provided by an eBayer called Veedubber who specialises in top 80's retro stuff. Go and check out his auctions soon
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