Mouthwash makers were once satisfied with telling customers that their products stop bad breath. Now they're getting more aggressive, touting emerging science that a healthy mouth may lead to a healthy body.
There are still no studies proving a connection between oral health and overall health, but a new campaign from Listerine sets out to explain the relationship.
A print advertisement which debuted in Wednesday's edition of USA Today depicts a Listerine bottle donning a stethoscope.
“If you think it's just for your mouth, think bigger,” the ad states.
“There's an association between the health of the mouth and the health of the body,” said Dr. Madeline Monaco, director of oral care professional relations, and a member of Listerine's research & development team.
Still, while there is a “pretty strong association,” she said, no cause and effect studies have been conducted to show if gingivitis or advanced gum disease can cause health problems such as heart disease or diabetes.
The new educational push comes as Listerine, the No. 1 mouthwash from Pfizer Inc., feels some pressure from Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest Pro-Health, which came to the U.S. market in early 2005.
“The reality is that there's more competition out there and so the perennial category standard bearer, Listerine, is feeling it,” said Robert Passikoff is founder and president of consultancy Brand Keys Inc.
The advertisement only says that “emerging science suggests” a link, wording safe enough for the American Dental Association to give its seal of acceptance. Listerine is also sponsoring an ADA brochure entitled “Health Mouth Health Body: Making the Connection.”
The latest campaign comes after Listerine had to change its advertising in January 2005 after a judge ruled that comparing the mouthwash to dental floss was false and misleading.
“We really did our homework to make sure that what we were saying reflected the state of the science,” Monaco said, including discussions with the ADA, the American Heart Association and the American Medical Association.
Listerine commanded 45 percent of the overall mouthwash/dental rinse market in the United States in the year ended July 16, but its sales slipped 4.9 percent, according to Information Resources Inc., whose data excludes Wal-Mart. Crest Pro-Health had a 9.3 percent share of the market in that time.
“Our share is down a little bit, as you'd expect from a major new competitor coming into the marketplace,” said Jeremy Puttock, a Listerine marketing director.
He called the new push “a significant initiative for Listerine” but declined to disclose financial details.
Listerine also updated its web site this week to tout the ideas. At the same time, Crest Pro-Health is coming out with a new toothpaste and discusses the healthy mouth-healthy body connection on its own site.
Johnson & Johnson is set to buy Pfizer's consumer products business later this year. Pfizer said that it did not discuss the new Listerine campaign with J&J.