Simplifying a suspiciously complicated oral care category.

The Ask

In 2018 the Colgate team approached Sylvain Labs to help create a unique proposition for the Colgate Mouthwash offering. While Colgate held a strong position in toothpaste, they were a distant fourth in the highly competitive US mouthwash category. Looking to shore up their retail relationships, the team was looking for wildly disruptive ideas to position their offering, and new-to-market product concepts to differentiate them from the wall of blue that confronted consumers at shelf. How do you develop a breakthrough new line of mouthwash that stands out from the shelf of sameness?

Unearthing Truth

We took a highly iterative and flexible approach to achieve a new-to-category concept. We gained inspiration from CPG disruptors and culturally analogous brands to shake up traditional thinking. Next, we gained deep consumer insight and empathized with the problems within the space through in-home and shop-along ethnographies. This work led to early value proposition, brand strategy and innovation work, which then underwent a number of different consumer refinement exercises to understand what resonated, identify ingrained problems within the category, and how we would overcome them through disruptive and innovative solutions.

Unlocking Possibility

We recognized a nascent and underlying skepticism for mouthwash early on. How effective is mouthwash really? Can swishing this liquid really prevent gingivitis, strengthen gums and solve so many dental issues from even starting? The category leaders have historically answered with long lists of claims, a “burn out the bad” product experience, and questionable ingredients. We saw an opportunity to take on the category with a brand that flipped these tropes from within. With strong credentials in oral care, but a smaller share in mouthwash, there was an opportunity to call out some of the old category codes, with a credible yet more straightforward, simple and honest approach. One that was clear, and added a bit of delight to an otherwise routine and obligatory experience.

Manifesting Impact

We delivered a clear proposition and line of products that felt refreshingly disruptive to category norms. Our lead product concept tested at a top score in quantitative testing and went on to create a cross-category platform for Colgate: Zero. A free-from proposition with zero alcohol, dyes, artificial flavors and artificial sweeteners. The product line broke category conventions with a clear liquid, minimal packaging communications, and a new-to-category bottle shape.


Immediately, the new line was picked up by key retail partners who felt it was a proposition they needed in order to expand their offering. Since launching in early 2020, it has opened the Colgate team’s eyes and minds to the future of the brand, and continues to grow as they gain in shelf space and market share.


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