The Marketing Behind Minty Toothpaste

May 21, 2019

There’s a reason most toothpaste is mint-flavored – and it has almost nothing to do with keeping your mouth clean.

The reason dates back to a hundred-year-old advertising campaign and the science of human cravings.

In the early 1900s, ad man Claude C. Hopkins was tasked with selling more Pepsodent. His Pepsodent ad campaign used celebrities of the day, from Clark Gable to Shirley Temple, to convince American consumers to brush their teeth and remove the “film” that caused discoloration and decay.

The ad campaign created a toothpaste craze.

Image via Vintage Ad Browser

However, it wasn’t just the guarantee of a prettier smile that skyrocketed Pepsodent into an international success. Hopkins knew he was onto something. In fact, he accidentally identified a neurological-cue that made people remember to brush their teeth every day.

Pepsodent was the first brand to use mint oil and citric acid in its toothpaste formula. The additions masked the flavor of baking soda and other ingredients and kept the product fresh on the shelves longer. But consumers remembered the cool, tingling sensation that came from brushing with mint-flavored Pepsodent.

Charles Duhigg writes about this effect in his book, The Power of Habit. Brushers realized when they’d forgotten to brush because their mouths didn’t feel minty-fresh.

“Claude Hopkins, it turns out, wasn’t selling beautiful teeth. He was selling a sensation,” Duhigg writes.

People wanted healthy, white teeth. But what made brushing an unshakable habit was the feeling they got when they did it.

Long story short: Good marketing isn’t just about influencing what people do. It’s about influencing how people feel. If you can tie your offering to a feeling, you have a much better chance of becoming a habit with your customers.

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Alison Hopkins.

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