Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Listerine : Pioneering a Category

Brand : Listerine
Company : Johnson & Johnson
Agency : Contract Health

Brand Analysis Count # 439

Listerine is a brand that pioneered the mouthwash category globally. The brand which is 100 years old was named after its inventor Joseph Lister. The brand over these years changed hands many times. The original brand owners were Warner- Lambert which was later acquired by Pfizer. In 2008, the brand again changed hands to Johnson & Johnson.

Listerine is one of the first mouthwash brands to enter India. The brand pioneered the Indian mouthwash segment which is now estimated to be worth around Rs 45 crore. Listerine is having more than 90% share in the Indian market.

Mouthwash category is still very small in the Indian market. Mostly these products are considered to be medicinal and that perception inhibits lot of consumers from buying mouthwash product.

The category penetration is still restricted to a small segment of consumers. The mouthwash is bought by
(a) those who are aware of the efficacy of the product like germ killing etc
( b) those who are conscious about their bad breath
(c) those prescribed by dentists.
A normal consumer may not look at this category as a normal regular purchase.

Another major issue that inhibited the growth of Listerine brand was its bad taste. Why should one tolerate bad tasting mouthwash every morning ? Unless the need is grave , consumers may not tolerate such an attribute. Understanding this issue, Listerine changed the flavor so that bad taste will not be a stumbling block for using this product. But still Listerine is associated with bad taste among lot of consumers.

Listerine globally is positioned on the germ killing plank. According to reports, when the brand was first introduced in USA, it got a lukewarm response. To pep up the sales, the brand owners devised an innovative strategy whereby they introduced the medical term for bad breath. The advertisers introduced a faux term Chronic Halitosis to describe bad breath ( Source) . Consumers fearing that bad breath is a medical condition ran for the mouthwash cure.

In India too, the brand started off as a cure for bad breath. Watch one of the earlier campaigns here.
Although the brand had excellent recall , the promotions for the brand was erratic. The brand went on and off in the media and there was no significant effort from the brand to penetrate the market. The brand usage was severely restricted to certain consumer segments and the usage was also not regular.

Listerine is currently running a campaign positioning itself as a " Freshness Bomb". The new campaign is featuring MTV VJ Cyrus . The ad is strikingly similar to the " Chocolate Bomb" ad of Cadbury Eclairs. I am not sure why the agency went on to copy a famous ad rather than spend some grey cells on some new creative idea. ( I don't have the listerine ad, will link it once I get it)

Listerine is right now facing a crisis also. According to Business World report, the use of mouthwash which have alcohol content can increase the chances of oral cancer . The report is quoting some Australian research report to prove its point. It is surprising to see the brand not responding to such serious allegations. The Johnson & Johnson website does not even mention this brand in their product list.

Listerine at this point needs to desperately develop the mouthwash category. It needs to expand the market by
(a) educating consumers about product attributes and importance
(b) encourage consumers to use the product on a regular basis.
(c) focus on attributes like convenience, confidence etc.
Take the example of handwash category.Marketers has successfully developed this category in India through high profile advertising campaigns.

Globally Listerine has variants like Teeth Whitening mouth wash which I think is the best product to increase the brand penetration. More than bad breath, consumers are likely to be attracted by the whitening attribute which has the potential to increase the overall category usage.

Listerine has a potential in Indian market. Indian consumers have become more networked and socially active. In such a highly interactive environment, mouthwash has lot of relevance because it is convenient. 30 seconds is only what is needed to get your breath refreshed and that is a useful and appealing proposition especially to youngsters.