Listerine Counters Rotten Sales

Here’s another reason the economy stinks: Americans, it seems, are skipping the mouthwash.

Dollar sales for the $689 million category are down 3.5 percent for the 52 weeks ended April 18, per SymphonyIRI. That data does not include Walmart sales.

Listerine, the segment’s No. 1 branded player, also dropped 14.6 percent during that same time period.* Parent company Johnson & Johnson aims to change that with a “docummercial,” narrated by Neil Patrick Harris, which launched this month.

The film, at, is a behind-the-scenes educational look at what really goes on inside one’s mouth—whether you’re sleeping, eating or brushing it many, many times, that is.

At one point in the video—which is interspersed with retro Listerine ads throughout—Harris compares the onslaught of gingivitis and plaque to the equivalent of “everyone living in the world having one big party in your mouth.” (Ew.) “Right now, billions of bacteria are multiplying on your tongue, your teeth, your gums. They’re everywhere,” he says matter-of-factly, adding that, “I was surprised to find out that brushing and flossing alone only took care of like, half of your mouth.”

To entice views of the video, J&J is donating $1 to the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation (for a total of $15,000) each time the video is watched.

Krista Faron, a senior analyst at market research firm Mintel, said the recession has clearly created a dent in the usually fast-growing mouthwash category (sales grew more than 30 percent in food, drug and mass channels from 2003 to 2008), and Listerine wants to be at the forefront of the economic rebound—when mouthwash sales do get better, she said.  “As with most categories, innovation is the key to avoiding commodity status,” she said.

J&J reps weren’t available for comment.

* A story last week about Listerine incorrectly mentioned that sales for the brand had fallen 14.6 percent. That number referred to Listerine Dental Rinse. Brand sales are down 3.5 percent, according to SymphonyIRI.

Publish date: May 17, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT