Listerine ad banned for 'misleading' oral health claims



A Listerine mouthwash radio advert has been banned. It claimed that "brushing alone isn't enough" and used the phrase "for total oral health". The advertising watchdog concluded that this could mislead people into assuming that dentists think mouthwash is necessary for oral health.

The maker, Johnson & Johnson, disagrees.

The advert

The advert featured a list of nasty things people put in their mouths over the course of the day, and then a voiceover said: "It's amazing what your mouth goes through, and brushing alone isn't enough. Try the Listerine routine for 21 days and if you don't love how clean your mouth feels we'll give you your money back. Listerine Total Care. For total oral health."

One person got in touch with the watchdog to ask whether the claim 'brushing alone isn't enough' was true, and whether it could be substantiated.


Johnson & Johnson produced ten different studies in their defence. They said that a 2009 survey of adult dental health showed that despite 75% of the population brushing their teeth at least twice a day, and a further 23% brushing once a day, there were still high incidences of oral health issues.

They also said that Listerine's ability to reduce plaque bacteria was key to their claims, and produced studies to back this up.

They felt that the advert hadn't implied involvement or endorsement by dentist, although they provided evidence that all dentists felt that brushing wasn't enough, because all dentists would also recommend flossing and a 'significant majority' would also recommend mouthwash. One of their studies among dentists rated the importance of using mouthwash as part of oral care as 5.6/10.


However, all these studies didn't convince the Advertising Standards Authority. They felt that most people would assume that the claim "brushing alone isn't enough" would have been based on the opinion of dentists - and would assume that this meant a mouthwash should also be used.

It said: "Although we understood that most oral health advice emphasised the importance of cleaning in between teeth in addition to brushing, we had not been provided with evidence that it was generally accepted within the dental community that the use of a mouthwash was necessary to maintain oral health. We therefore concluded the claim was misleading and had not been substantiated."

Perhaps they ought to have stuck with Clifford the Dragon.


Johnson & Johnson subsequently issued a statement in response to the ban. The company said: "We are disappointed with this decision as we believe we have strong evidence to back up the claim that has been questioned."

"The ruling requires that we stop airing the advert in its current form and we will comply with this decision. We stand behind the validity of the claim and are considering our options including the independent review process of the ASA."

"We value the trust that consumers and dental healthcare professionals place in our products and are committed to ensuring open and clear communications with them. It is not our intention to mislead in any way."

It insists that its claims are scientific, based on scientific evidence, with good support from the dental community.

So what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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