What we now identify with as a remedy for your unfortunate case of bad breath, actually started as a surgical antiseptic named for Sir Joseph Lister, a British surgeon and a pioneer of antiseptic surgery. Listerine, a less powerful version of the antiseptic, was formulated in St. Louis, MO in 1879 by Dr. Joseph Lawrence and Jordan Wheat Lambert.
It was later marketed as a solution for dandruff [1930’s-50’s], colds and sore throats, a floor cleaner, a hair tonic, a deodorant, small pox… even that gonorrhea you have growing in your crotchular area.
In 1976, the FTC steps in while rolling their eyes and pretty much says, “Now you know Listerine doesn’t alleviate sore throats and colds… let’s keep it real!”
What ensues, I share with you courtesy of The Washington Post: “After four months of hearings and 40,000 pages of documentary evidence including exhibits and testimony of 46 witnesses, the agency ordered Warner Lambert Co., the makers of Listerine. to stop saying that its use would treat or prevent common colds.”
Now, as far as you wondering why you were “always a bridesmaid, and never a bride.” Apparently, it’s your breath.
According to AdAge, following the death of Mr. and Mrs. Lambert, Gerard Lambert — one of four sons — met with a copywriter and company chemist in 1921. The result was a marketing plan that would forever change the brand. How, you ask? By convincing you that you are suffering from a case of halitosis. No, no… not hallelujah — but halitosis and becoming the first over-the-counter mouthwash sold in the United States.
The company set up an in-house advertising agency, Lambert & Feasley, whose primary responsibility was marketing Listerine. By the time of the stock market crash in 1929, Listerine was one of the largest buyers of magazine and newspaper space.
With profits rising to more than $8 million in the 20’s, the bad-breath campaign was so successful that marketing historians refer to it as the “halitosis appeal”—shorthand for using fear to sell product.
Listerine’s new ads featured forlorn young women and men, eager for marriage but turned off by their mate’s rotten breath. “Can I be happy with him in spite of that?” one maiden asked herself. Until that time, bad breath was not conventionally considered such a catastrophe. But Listerine changed that.
Not to miss out on the portion of the population not suffering from fetid breath (that’s me, not you), from the 1930’s through the ’60s the Lambert Pharmacal Company marketed Listerine cigarettes.
“Cooling and soothing,” they were touted… “Listerine cigarettes are pleasantly cooling and soothing to the throat. They are made so by impregnating fine tobacco with the antiseptic essential oils used in the manufacture of Listerine.”