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By: Joanna McNurlen

Most people in the advertising industry are familiar with Listerine and halitosis. Invented in the late 1800s as an antiseptic, Listerine was positioned as everything from a floor cleaner to a cure for certain diseases. Yet it didn’t experience success until its marketing department stumbled upon “halitosis,” an obscure medical term meaning “bad breath.”

The marketing team created new ads that capitalized on this “disease,” positioning bad breath as something thoroughly unpleasant and celebrating Listerine as the cure for such an undesirability. Consumers bought it, and sales jumped from $115,000 to over $8 million in seven years.

This year, Kleenex launched Kleenex Hand Towels, boxes of disposable hand towels that fit onto a towel bar or countertop in your bathroom. Theorizing that “your hands are only as clean as the towel used to dry them,” Kleenex positions its disposable hand towels as a more sanitary alternative to cloth towels, which can trap dirt from prior uses.

Like Listerine, Kleenex has come up with a previously unheard of “problem” that its product can solve. Prior to halitosis, people didn’t think bad breath was that big of a deal – Listerine changed that. Perhaps Kleenex hopes that consumers will rally against the suddenly germ-filled hand towel as they did against halitosis.

Can Kleenex persuade consumers to switch from cloth hand towels to disposable paper towels the same way they switched from handkerchiefs to tissues? I, for one, think not. Using a paper towel after each trip to the loo isn’t easy on trees or on the wallet, especially when consumers have been using cloth towels for years without complaint. I can understand switching from gooey handkerchiefs to disposable tissues, but I don’t think most people will believe a towel used to dry clean hands has enough germs to be problematic.

Sure, some mysophobic mothers may buy into Kleenex’s claim, but as a whole, I think this is a product we will wash (and dry) our hands of in a few years.

Watch the spot here.