Dandruff, gonorrhea, and halitosis

Old, established products often have a fascinating history. Consider, if you will, the story of Listerine.

The story

In 1879 Joseph Lawrence, a St. Louis-based doctor, developed an alcohol-based formula for a surgical antiseptic. He did this in honor of the pioneering surgeon, Doctor Joseph Lister, and he named it Listerine.

He hoped to also promote Listerine’s use as a general germicide.  He licensed his formula to a local pharmacist named Jordan Lambert in 1881. Lambert later formed Lambert Pharmaceutical Company and launched Listerine as a mouthwash.

Interesting, a distilled form was also sold as a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea (What?!).

Listerine sales grew rapidly in the 1920s when they “discovered” it could handle a little-known condition, halitosis. Now the specter of “bad breath” could be overcome and your love-life was saved! Ah, the magic of aggressive advertising.

However, this wonder-substance was not finished by any means. It was later advertised as helping with “infectious dandruff” and used as a skin conditioner.

A lesson

Sometimes the marketing of a product gets ahead of the science behind the product. Listerine works for its intended use as a mouthwash. And although I’m not a doctor, I suggest not using it for gonorrhea.


Make sure your value proposition is backed up with a valid value promise.

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