Let’s get something straight: Listerine did not invent bad breath, they just figured out a clever way to create a market for their product.
It was during the 1920s that bad breath became more than just a fact of life. And it was Gerald Lambert, the son of the owner of Lambert Pharmaceutical Company, who came across the term, “halitosis,” in an old medical journal. Halitosis is an old Latin word meaning, “bad breath.” But because of its scientific-sounding name, people started to pay attention. It was framed as a medical condition that required treatment, and of course, the prescription was Listerine mouthwash.
Enter Edna, a beautiful young woman with all of the charm and social graces that made her desirable, except for one fatal flaw – Edna suffered from halitosis. What made it worse was that she didn’t even know it! Not even her closest friends would tell her and so Poor Edna, despite all of her charms, was “always the bridesmaid and never the bride.”
This ad campaign created salacious, fast-tempo dramas for readers to identify with, creating a demand for the product to avoid the same social-shaming circumstances Poor Edna found herself in.
And it worked.
Listerine’s annual sales went from a little over $100,000 in 1921, to more than $4 million annually in 1927. By the late 1920s, Listerine was the country’s third-largest print advertiser. To put that into perspective with today’s money, that’s an increase from $1.3 million to $57.5 million.