More Listerine, Please
By Kate Bertrand Connolly

Smart package design boosts consumption and sales for venerable mouthwash brand.
From its earliest days, package design has been earmarked as a way to entice consumers to buy products. But it’s no secret that, today, the discipline is charged with an increasingly important role after purchase: to deliver a positive brand experience and, in many cases, to encourage consumers to use and buy the product more often.
That was the case in the club store channel, with a redesign of Listerine’s mouthwash bottle. Because consumers have found the new packaging much easier to lift and dispense, they are said to be emptying the 2.1-liter bottle’s contents much more readily than the six-month timeframe that used to be the norm. And sales are reportedly up as a result.
Using principles of ergonomics, Metaphase Design Group completed the new Listerine bottle design when the brand was under Pfizer’s ownership; Johnson & Johnson has since acquired Listerine, part of its purchase of Pfizer Consumer Healthcare last June.
A stock bottle
Pfizer had been using a stock plastic bottle for the club-store size of Listerine mouthwash. But the company realized that, as a design solution, it was not successful. The bottle lacked brand resonance and also the functionality needed for such a large format.
Key requirements were identified for the new design: It had to be easy to lift and use, even for those with smaller or weaker hands; and the proprietary package design also had to provide value in the distribution cycle.
“It was not only the consumer who was important to us in this design process, it was also the supply chain,” recalls Bryce Rutter, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Metaphase.
As a first step, Metaphase brought internal experts in ergonomics, biomechanics, perception, behavior, physical therapy, kinesiology and design together to conduct research and determine how consumers interact with the club-store size Listerine packaging, from point of purchase to the time they dispose of the empty container. They looked at everything from how people grip the bottle to how they dispense from it—whether into a cup, into the closure or directly into their mouths.
They also considered how to best articulate the shape of the container so the majority of people could handle it with ease. The goal was for everyone with hand sizes in the fifth through ninety-fifth percentiles, which represent everyone from the smallest females to the largest males, to be able to securely grip the bottle, lift it vertically and also pour from it, with control, whether the bottle was full, half full or nearly empty. Similarly, the closure would need to accommodate the full range of hand sizes and the possibility of the closure doubling as a mouthwash cup.
The group also analyzed every step of the distribution workflow.
“We looked at all aspects of material handing, from the tray designs on which the bottles are placed and how these trays pack out on a pallet for shipping optimization, through to how individual bottles sit side by side [on the shelf],” says Rutter.
An ergonomic solution
The bottle that came out of this work is blow molded from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) with a barbell shape that reinforces the equities of the 142-year-old Listerine brand and, at the same time, leverages state-of-the-art ergonomic styling.
“The large shoulder at the top is iconic of the brand and the image of what Listerine stands for,” Rutter says.
Horizontal ribs in the primary grip zone are molded into its side panels, and, together with the recessed shape of the grip zone, they keep the bottle from sliding down in the user’s hand.
Rolled edges that curl down from the front and back panels allow consumers to securely hook their fingertips around the edge of the grip zone, which is particularly important when rotating the bottle from a vertical to a horizontal position, and the product shifts within the container.
The textural details in the grip areas are also designed with attention to radius, depth and relative spacing, so people with fingers of any size and even those with longer fingernails can manipulate the bottle with confidence.
“We found a way to take [Listerine’s] visual brand equity and add ergonomic value to it,” says Rutter. “Consumers see the heritage in the Listerine signature shape but it also looks very fresh and new.”  
And, in case consumers miss all that, a sizeable front panel features an auxiliary label that also touts the “Easy Grip Bottle” design.
Beyond consumer needs, the sculptural bottle also meets distribution requirements by minimizing dead space in shipping cartons, and accounts for retail concerns with an indented waist that provides clearance for the hands of store personnel as they restock shelves.
“We specifically dimensioned the bottle so when two are ‘slammed on the shelf’ during stocking, there was sufficient knuckle clearance to get the style of grip architecture we wanted for a package this heavy,” says Rutter. “We wanted to ensure that they wouldn’t knock their knuckles off between containers.”
‘Take a swig’
As with the bottle, Metaphase paid close attention to the closure and how people would use it, discovering that some pour the mouthwash into a cup, some pour it into the bottle’s closure, and, according to Rutter, others “just pop it open and take a swig”.
That’s why, in contrast to the narrow waistline of the bottle, which was designed so small hands could wrap around it, the closure was developed to offer enough surface area for large hands—and to offer weaker hands sufficient surface area to apply the squeeze force needed to rotate it. It was also sized so that it could be used as a mouthwash cup, if desired. Fine vertical texture on the closure provides traction for twisting.
Rutter emphasizes that successful package structures should take all of these different use behaviors into account, and support each of them. Together, he reports, the easy-to-use Listerine bottle and its tall closure deliver on that ideal—and then some.
“The package redesign changed the consumption behavior,” he says. “That’s how we measure our success. At the cash register.”
Where to go for more information...
Ergonomic design. At Metaphase Design Group Inc., call Bryce Rutter at 314.721.0700 ext. 123 or visit