When it comes to hard gigs in marketing, there can be few tougher than selling the benefits of mouthwash. Listerine has taken a new approach

When it comes to hard gigs in marketing, there can be few tougher than selling the benefits of mouthwash.

As market leader, Listerine has taken a new approach that references the product only tangentially.

Working with the endorsement of the Royal National Institue of the Blind (RNIB), the brand has developed a ‘feel a smile’ app and film.

The mobile app works on both Android and iOS phones, using augmented reality and facial recognition software to help blind people know when somebody is smiling at them. With the phone pointed towards a person, the app can detect a smile up to five metres away and alert the phone owner with a sound or vibration.

It’s a simple idea cleverly realised, and seeing the impact it has on the recipients and their friends and families is very moving.

Halo effect

There are many of these feel-good campaigns by brands putting their resources behind charities, and it’s easy to be cynical and ask ‘what’s in it for them?’.

There obviously is a halo effect purely from association, but Listerine is cuter than that. The product’s recent communications have focused on how it can help teeth remain whiter – something that it hopes will help it break through to a younger market.

However, rather than broadcasting the Power of a Smile tagline through traditional channels, it has adopted a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach with the app and the film – one that is more likely to engage with the blind.

Authentic connections

Associating your brand with a charity or good cause is a risky business. The link has to have authenticity, and there has to be a real value exchange between the parties, so let’s hope that Listerine isn’t just using this as a one-off project to generate some feel-good PR.

However, the signs are that it has taken it seriously, with a great narrative in the film demonstrating why simply knowing somebody is smiling is so powerful to blind people. It has also included audio description so that blind viewers know what is going on.

Finally, the director of the Listerine ad was behind Blindsight, a documentary film that told the story of six blind Tibetan teenagers’ journey to climb a 23,000 foot mountain.

This suggests that those behind the work genuinely care about telling the stories of the blind – an absolute necessity when the harsh reality is that more than two million people (and rising) in the UK live with sight loss.

Campaigns like this spark real emotions – something often lacking from retailer ads. Too often as marketers we focus solely on creating an immediate behavioural change, but if the initial call to action doesn’t work, there may not be a Plan B. Yet by building in emotional currency, the communication can have a slow burn effect.

This then drives change based more on hearts than minds – which as we all know goes deeper and lasts longer than the instant win. Brands and retailers need to find ways to serve this untapped market, and in a small way Listerine is showing how it can be done.

  • Matt Pye, chief operating officer at Cheil UK