Listerine branches out

By introducing mint flavor to Listerine, Warner-Lambert Canada is making the first innovation to its oral antiseptic in 113 years.In addition to increasing its own share, the company hopes Cool Mint Listerine will expand the $64 million market for mouthwash -...

By introducing mint flavor to Listerine, Warner-Lambert Canada is making the first innovation to its oral antiseptic in 113 years.

In addition to increasing its own share, the company hopes Cool Mint Listerine will expand the $64 million market for mouthwash – a market which, of late, has been in decline.

‘Our intent with this launch, and our stated goal, is to restore growth and profitability to the category,’ says Suresh Kumar, category manager.

‘Our intent is to grow the market and to certainly grow our own franchise,’ he says.

According to figures from A.C. Nielsen, price deflation has reduced revenues in the mouthwash market by about 10%, although tonnage has decreased by only about 1%.

Scope, from Procter & Gamble, is currently the market leader in Canada, with 30% of the market, Kumar says, while Listerine occupies the number two position at 18%.

Scope is in the category of cosmetic mouthwashes that make no medical claims, Kumar says. Listerine, on the other hand, is in the category of products that is authorized by the Canadian government to claim a medical benefit.

Listerine, however, has never claimed to taste good.

By introducing a mint-flavored mouthwash, Warner-Lambert hopes to capture those consumers who want both the germ-killing benefits of an oral antiseptic, as well as the better flavor of some other mouthwashes.

‘There is a large amount of people who use minty mouthwashes because they like the taste,’ Kumar says. ‘We don’t want the consumer to make a compromise — we want them to make a conscious choice.’

Kumar says product innovation has been long in coming because of the many years of research needed to come up with a new formula.

‘It (the formula) calls for a really delicate balancing in the essential oils or ingredients that constitute the product,’ says Kumar.

The company will continue to sell Listerine in its original flavor, as well as Listermint, a mint-flavored mouthwash of the cosmetic variety, even though sales of the latter brand have declined considerable, A.C. Nielsen reports.

‘Conventional segmentation calls for therapeutic and cosmetic mouthwashes,’ Kumar says.

‘The cosmetic segment has for so long just been the flavored mouthwash, which is for breath and social confidence. Listermint is positioned in that area, as is Scope. It is not our intent to withdraw Listermint. It has a share and a status of its own,’ he says.

To promote its product, Warner-Lambert is using a television campaign, as well as coupons to generate trial of the new product, which now comes in reduced packaging for environmental reasons.

J. Walter Thompson is the agency developing the campaign.

The launch of Cool Mint Listerine has not been without a response from its main competitor

‘It’s really a war out there,’ Kumar says. ‘We’ve really seen how Procter & Gamble reacted in the u.s. The moment Listerine launched, they had all sorts of competitive advertising launched,’ Kumar says.

Since its release in the u.s. eight months ago, Warner-Lambert has seen Cool Mint Listerine gain a 10% share of the market.

At home, the makers of Scope have also responded to the launch. ‘In Canada, they (P&G) have been trying to fortify their positions with numerous pricing and promotion manoeuvres,’ Kumar says.

Scope has also added another ingredient, called Oraseptate. The company claims the ingredient gives the user a ‘fresher, cleaner feeling.’

To prepare for the Canadian market, Warner-Lambert paid special attention to Quebec where, Kumar says, the attitudes towards oral hygiene are quite different

When a marketing survey showed these different attitudes, as well as a highly underdeveloped market for mouthwash amongst Francophones, Warner-Lambert went to work.

‘We used a completely different French-specific strategy and, in so doing, we tested a number of programs, which we are now introducing into English Canada.’

As a result of its strategy in Quebec, the total market there in four months increased by 4 per cent while Listerine increased its position by 34 per cent.

‘That was the objective when we invested heavily behind that market — to restore growth,’ Kumar says.

‘Essentially what we did in Quebec is what we want to do in English Canada,’ he says.