May 21, 2012
We’ve all spent a sleepless night channel surfing at 3a.m. Flicking around at that hour, you’re sure to come across an infomercial for a Revolutionary Floor Cleaner or an Abs-of-Steel Machine urging you to be one of the first 500 callers and get a free set of steak knives. Bolstered by breathless, off-their-meds hosts, these feature-length commercials are wildly profitable. (Americans bought more than $91 billion worth of products hawked on TV in 2011). Now Orabrush, a 20-person company based in Utah, is using that formula to become the QVC of YouTube.
The Orabrush, as you might have guessed from the picture, is a tongue scraper. Invented by Dr. Bob Wagstaff, the product is essentially a modified toothbrush with a wider head. While it may be effective in scraping bacteria and other gunk off your tongue to cure bad breath, it’s not an easy sell. Dr. Wagstaff tried to hawk it for eight years, spent $40,000 on a slick TV infomercial, and sold about 100 units.
Frustrated by his lack of traction, Wagstaff visited a class of MBA students to get new marketing ideas.
One student, Jeffrey Harmon, argued that the Orabrush should be marketed on the web. Wagstaff disagreed, but still paid Harmon $500 to produce a video to test his hypothesis. Over a hundred YouTube videos later, Harmon heads up the marketing team that has helped Orabrush sell 2.1 million units and land national retail distribution at Walmart.
This tiny company with a single wince-inducing product has more online viewers than P&G, Crest and every other product in the oral care category, combined.
With crowdfunding and access to production services, it has never been easier to bring a product to market. But that ease also creates noise and competition. As Dr. Wagstaff’s experience proves, many inventors fail to consider marketing until it’s too late.
Shooting a quirky video for your product doesn’t ensure it will go viral. “Only one in a 1,000 videos go viral,” Harmon says, “and even people who have had viral videos can’t usually repeat them.”
Only one in a 1,000 videos go viral, Harmon says.
So what was Orabrush’s secret sauce? Harmon offered a few tips:
Inventors should make videos that tell compelling stories about their product and experiment with different approaches until sales improve. Orabrush tested video formats that included technical demonstrations and other, more surreal fare.
One series was a soap opera starring Morgan “The Foul-Mouthed Tongue” who was constantly alienating potential love interests with his surly attitude and horrible halitosis. This cheeky, low-budget series starring a guy in a foam rubber suit generated 300 percent more views than all of the high-budget commercials on the supposedly youth-focused, YouTube friendly Mountain Dew channel.
Don’t underestimate the optimization process. Orabrush videos look casual, but take days to write and shoot, and often require months of refinements, edits and testing before they go live.
This high barrier to entry gives creatives a huge advantage. It’s relatively easy for entrepreneurs to experiment with pay-per-click or banner ads, but making a video requires specialized skills.
Forget the focus group. Use your video channel to find out what customers think. Hundreds of Orabrush users have posted testimonials on YouTube that provide the team with constant feedback and video footage of their product in use.
This wealth of customer data has led to a number of product improvements. For example, the bristle pad was originally white, because Dr. Wagstaff thought dental tools should look sterile, but that made it hard to see the gunk — the holy grail of obsessive oral hygiene. In response, Harmon introduced vibrantly colored bristles. The gunk now took center stage, making the product seem more effective.
YouTube is the new cable. Top stars on YouTube get more views on each of their uploads than Jay Leno or Conan O’Brien get on TV. According to Harmon, a respectable cable TV channel has approximately 400,000 viewers who watch regularly. Orabrush gets 185,000 — for a tongue scraper.
In other words, if you’re building a product or are part of a company that’s preparing to launch one, your marketing plan should set its sights one thing only: earning the badge “As Seen on YouTube.”