People have always suffered from bad breath, and there have always been suggested remedies for it, such as wine mouthwashes, charcoal toothpaste and chewing herbs. However at the turn of the century, advertisers seized on the common problem of bad breath to sell Listerine as the world’s first marketed mouthwash.

Listerine advertisement

Listerine advertisement

Listerine was formulated in 1879 by Dr. Joseph Lawrence and Jordan Wheat Lambert in St. Louis, Missouri as a surgical antiseptic. It was used for a variety of purposes: cleaning wounds, a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea. In 1895 it began to be marketed as a dental medicine, which dentists could use for oral care. Then in 1914 it was marketed for the first time as a mouthwash.

To help sell Listerine as a mouthwash to a population who did not consider bad breath to be a bad enough problem to start medicating, the company seized an obscure medical term for bad breath ‘halitosis’, to make people think they had an actual condition.

No matter how charming you may be or how fond of you your friends are, you cannot expect them to put up with halitosis (unpleasant breath) forever. They may be nice to you – but it is an effort. Don’t fool yourself that you never have halitosis as do so many self-assured people who constantly offend this way.

Listerine bottle from the 1920s

Listerine bottle from the 1920s

Listerine’s advertising campaigns were aimed at young men and women, encouraging them to think that halitosis was what was ruining their love life and Listerine mouth wash could help them find a spouse. Ads claimed that ’68 hairdressers state that about every third woman, many of them from the wealthy class, is halitoxic.’

From the 1920s, this advertising formula was successful and Listerine’s revenues rose from $115,000 to more than $8 million. Listerine was sold in a glass bottle with no changes to the brand until the 1990s, when new bottles and flavours were introduced.

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