Disruption, Listerine and Need Recognition

Consider the contents of three ads of a brand which made their appearance in one edition of a news paper-

  1. It does not matter, how long you brush. You can still suffer from oral problems.
  2. It does not matter which brush you use. You can still suffer from oral problems.
  3. It does not matter, how you brush. You can still suffer from oral problems.
  4. Listerine mouthwash used after brushing gives you 100% oral care (headline). The body copy describes how only brushing is incomplete for total oral care. The ad visually shows an equation which states: brush plus Listerine is equal to 100% oral care.

Almost similar strategy was used by Dove some years back in which the brand communication challenged people to check and verify for themselves how harsh their current bathing bar were by performing a litmus type test. Dove’s ads actually carried removable test strips with which potential customers could try and verify how harsh and hence damaging their current soap brand were. Dove tried to drive home one point that low alkalinity of Dove (pH 7) makes the product more skin friendly than other bars (pH 9.9).


In a highly cluttered and information loaded marketing environment consumer has a tendency to become a ‘shut’ system and develop short cut heuristics to cope with buying problems. The more stimulated is the marketing environment the greater is the demand on consumer’s cognitive system to process information. Beyond a point this demand is perceived as an intrusion and assault. Accordingly a great deal of information is filtered by consumer’s perceptual filter and adapted for comfort.

Such situations are strategically challenging for the new marketers. In order to get the potential customers to know, consider, like and buy the product it is necessary to move the customer from current state of balance and poise to a state of imbalance and disturbance. This imbalance is the precursor of consumer buying process. It is essential that customer routine is disrupted by creating a perceive inequality between existing state and desired state. Technically customers develop routines to solve their problems. Brands and products which become part of these routines participate in consumer buying. For instance incense sticks and ghee for lighting a lamp are often part of daily prayer routine or dabbing on a lotion after the shave has become a ritual for many people.

What do you do when people consider brushing as the complete oral care activity? Listerine brand of mouth wash faces a similar challenge: how to get the people to consider mouth wash as essential step to complete oral care. This certainly requires pushing potential customers to problem zone (existing state not equal to desired state) which would require a shock or disruption in first thoughts and then routine.

The Listerine ads (four in number) were aimed to hit customer one after the other so that sensory process is activated (cross adaptation level) and challenged customer existing belief system (‘it does not matter how long you brush’; ‘it does not matter which brush you use’ and ‘it does not matter how you brush’) by creating a perceived discrepancy (problem recognition) which the fourth ad seeks to resolve by introducing the mouth wash (solution).

Do you remember some ads which typically challenge you to revisit what you think and what you buy; all these are disruptive in nature. Many brands create relevance beginning with disruption.


2 thoughts on “Disruption, Listerine and Need Recognition

  1. quite intriguing!!!
    its like compelling consumers to think the way they want to…..next they may ask for another sort of thing , may be a spray or so to make the whole brushing process ‘complete’…….

  2. Implanting product need into the subjects mind may be a time tested way of enforcing brand relevance (almost every category has one or two players using such strategy, more so in the newer categories). But the actual impact is probably more correlated with the execution than the strategy itself. For example in the case of Listerine, the brand would could have achieved far more relevance had they positioned it more specefically as a remedy for bad breath and then built their disruption strategy around it. Instead, the brand entered into a already crowded and overly general category of ‘oral care’. Seems like a case of over emphasis on competition.

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