We are so used to answering questions, we forget that may not always be the most creative way to go.
To merely answer a question.
Real creativity may be to get upstream of all that. To question the question.
We tend to run creativity along the lines of supply and demand.
The brief is what’s demanded.
The creative work is done to supply that demand.
And, in classic economic theory, demand dictates supply.
But sometimes, true creativity doesn’t work like that.

Take Listerine.
It was named after Joseph Lister, who pioneered the use of antiseptics to kill germs.
And originally, that’s what it was used for, to sterilise surgical instruments.
Then, later on, as a treatment for gonorrhea, then, later still, as a floor cleaner.
Obviously sales weren’t great.
Because those aren’t mass-market areas.
The product was solving problems most people didn’t have.
If you want to sell large amounts, you need to find a mass-market problem you can solve.
Or, if you can’t find one, create one.
So Gerard Lambert decided to create a problem for Listerine to solve.
He took an obscure medical term, and popularised it as a problem.
In those days, in America, people smoked cigarettes, and cigars, and pipes, and drank whiskey, and ate strong foods, often full of garlic.
Since everyone’s breath smelled of something, no one really noticed.
But Gerard Lambert decided to capitalise on people’s insecurities.
The brilliant realisation was that no one could smell their own breath.
So they couldn’t tell if it smelled bad.
It was an area of doubt.
And Listerine was the answer.
In his advertising, dentists stated that half their patients had halitosis.
They’d recommend Listerine as a cure for halitosis.
Previously no one had ever heard of halitosis.
But, in a single campaign, you’ve got a problem you didn’t know you had, and you’ve got the cure.
And during the first 7 years of that advertising, sales increased over 70 times.
Because, before Listerine sold mouthwash, they sold halitosis.

Years later, in England, Rowntree wanted to market wafer thin squares of chocolate, with a thin mint filling.
They were too small and expensive to be sold as ordinary sweets.
So JWT created a completely new market, a need for this product to satisfy.
The problem they invented was what to serve your guests after dinner.
When everyone’s sitting and chatting, over port or brandy.
The advertising showed the rest of us something we’d never see.
What the sophisticated elite do after dinner.
They all pass around the after dinner mints.
Except they don’t.
JWT invented the need, and then provided the solution.
After Eight Mints.
Now this product wouldn’t be seen as just expensive chocolates.
Now it was seen as a sophisticated taste for discerning adults.
Today, Rowntree sell over a billion After Eight Mints a year, worldwide.
JWT successfully created a need, and a solution.
So successful, that the rest of the world believes it too.
The World Cup was held in Germany in 2010, and a town famous for making aromatic products, created a ‘smells tour’.
For Italy they chose the smell of pizza, vodka for Poland, Coca Cola for the USA, pina colada for Brazil, Chanel No 5 for France, cheese for Holland, and After Eight mints for the UK.
Not only do the British now believe that’s how sophisticated people behave.
The rest of the world now believes that’s how sophisticated British people behave.

Rowntree and Listerine didn’t just answer the question.
They created a new question.

  • john woods

    Who can vacuum without a bagless machine these days? How did we ever manage Mr Dyson?

  • Dinesh Bhadwal

    In an interview, David Ogilvy once said that advertising has improved people’s lives
    by making them smell good. He was talking about deodorants. I wonder what the
    truth is. Did we really mind body odour or did advertising teach us to take

  • Liam Tate

    Love the insight, question the question. However I find the application of it by Gerard Lambert morally repulsive; exploiting peoples insecurities for profit.

     “Our culture is marketing. What is marketing? Trying to get people to do what you want them to. It’s what drives our consumer culture. It’s what drives our politics; it’s what drives our art. Music, movies, books, fine arts, it’s part of every research grant proposal. I don’t want to participate. I don’t want to tell you how to sell a screenplay or tell you how to write a hit, or tell you how to fit into the existing system. I want to tell you that I have a hope that there’s another way to be in this world, and that I believe with courage, vulnerability and honesty that the stuff we put into the world can serve a better purpose.”
    –  Charlie Kaufman

  • Dave Trott

    Hi Liam,
    Like you, I love the insight, I like to learn about different, smarter ways of thinking.
    How, or what, we use them for is an individual moral choice IMHO.
    Some people think it’s okay to advertise certain things: cigarettes, alcohol, violent games, skin whitening cream, etc.
    Other people don’t.
    I like to separate the ‘what’ off from the ‘how’.
    We may not all agree with the ‘what’ but we should be able to appreciate and learn from a really good ‘how’.


    • Liam Tate

      I once heard a lady say of Hitler: “Well.. he wasn’t a procrastinator, least he got things done”.O.oHitler a pin-up for productivity yuppies?! Take from that what you will.I guess context is my issue with the Gerard Lambert story. It’s a fascinating example of successful marketing but posting it on this website has a subtext of endorsement for his actions. That aside, I agree with you Dave.Roll on more insights 😀

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