Illustration for article titled “Mask Breath” is the new way to sell mints and gum
Photo: Jonatan Fernstrom (Getty Images)

Did you know that Listerine stoked Americans’ fear of bad breath in order to drive up sales of mouthwash? Adam Ruins Everything explains it best, but essentially, when the folks at Listerine—once an all-purpose household cleaning product—realized in the 1920s that they could earn millions by marketing it as a cure for halitosis, ad campaigns shifted to the scourge of bad breath, hinting at all the people who talk about you behind your back if you suffer from it.

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That historical anecdote might provide some useful insight into what advertising will look like in the age of coronavirus. Adweek reports that on an April earnings call, Hershey’s CEO reported a 40-50% drop in mint and gum sales in recent weeks. And this makes sense, since no one has anybody they’re looking to impress with fresh breath right now. No close-quarters job interviews, first dates, or big kissing scenes in a community theater production of Oklahoma! Still, Hershey has launched an innovative attempt to combat the lag in sales: by convincing customers that they themselves must be saved from experiencing their own bad breath from behind their face mask.

The Ice Breakers “mask breath” campaign, coupled with the hashtag #mintbeforeyoumask, is just one company’s attempt to stay relevant as so many of the trappings of daily life that made its product essential have fallen away. If the ad is even marginally successful, we can expect to see more like it down the line. According to Hershey’s senior director of social strategy, “If things evolve and change in two months, maybe the campaign messaging evolves.”

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

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