Posted in History & Literature


There is a technical word for everything in medicine. A great example is halitosis. In the late 19th century, Dr. Joseph Lawrence and Jordan Wheat Lambert developed a new surgical antiseptic. Finding that the target market was too small, they distilled the new product and advertised it as a floor cleaner and also a cure for gonorrhoea. But sales were still not great and they came up with a brilliant marketing scheme. Their company Listerine began advertising the dangers of “chronic halitosis” as a serious health problem in the 1920s. People were unfamiliar with this condition and instantly associated it with some form of major illness. They were desperate to prevent themselves from getting it, or to treat it if they already had it. Lucky for them, Listerine came to the rescue with their product that treated chronic halitosis.

Of course, halitosis is simply the medical term for bad breath. Although bad breath is not an actual disease, Listerine was extremely successful in convincing the population that it was a problem and was able to market their product this way. Listerine’s campaign was so successful that bad breath is still considered extremely offensive and socially unacceptable, making mouthwash almost a “necessity”. To quote advertising scholar James B. Twitchell, “Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis”. They had successfully invented a problem that their product could solve – creating not only supply for the product, but also the demand. This strategy has since been employed by countless advertising schemes to help sell products.

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