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Poor Edna and the Listerine Solution

In our series of marketing campaigns that changed the world, here we take a look at how Listerine used Halitosis to create a new market and boost sales of their antibacterial mouthwash.

Bad breath has (annoyingly) been around for as long as we have.

Nearly 3000 years ago, the Egyptians were known to tackle the challenge with an early type of breath mint. Mixing up boiled herbs and spices and throwing in some honey, they created sweets that could be chewed or sucked to banish unpleasant breath odours.

In the 1400s, the Chinese switched things up with the first toothbrush made from boar bristles. It certainly beat the twigs our ancestors had previously been using.

But it was in the 1920s that bad breath was officially given its marching orders.

Listerine, owned at the time by the Lambert Pharmaceutical Company, decided bad breath didn’t have to be a way of life and (surprise) they had the perfect product to tackle it. Their solution, a general antiseptic, had been in use in medical circles since 1879. But it needed a rebrand if it was going to move into general domestic use.

Gerald Lambert, son of the company owner, hunkered down to do his market research and discovered the word Halitosis – Latin for bad breath – in an old medical journal. Thinking it sounded sufficiently medicinal and therefore something that needed a cure, he created the perfect advertising strategy for marketing Listerine mouthwash.

Hats off to their brilliant marketing agency for the resulting inspiring ad campaign featuring unpopular Edna and her unexcuseable (sic) halitosis. Although perfect in every other way, Edna’s bad breath meant she was often a bridesmaid but never the bride. Yep, that’s where the saying came from!

Listerine Brilliant Ad Campaign example

Listerine’s ad introducing poor Edna and her horrible halitosis to the world


Listerine made it known that bad breath wasn’t a personal inconvenience, it was a rather embarrassing medical issue that needed curing. And that cure would be a quick swill of Listerine to banish those oral smell-inducing bugs.

With some smart research, brilliant positioning and clarity of benefits (popularity) over features (a mouthwash) Listerine created a whole new market to boost sales of their established product. Now owned by Johnson & Johnson, Listerine continues to help make the world slightly less smelly and, for that, we salute them.

p.s. Listerine have some great content on their site with hints and tips for banishing bad breath. Check it out here: Listerine website

p.p.s. For a bit more insight on how Orchid can help you create change in your business, click here: The Orchid Way

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