By SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN
Can a YouTube video bring in big business? If it goes viral, it just might.
[See the video that started it all at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oKYeWf3dPA].
On Tuesday, Provo, Utah-based Orabrush Inc. announced its flagship product – a tongue cleaner – would be carried in 3,500 of Wal-Mart Inc.’s 3,800 U.S. stores thanks to a social-media campaign launched two years ago.
Orabrush initially marketed its tongue cleaners directly to consumers with a TV infomercial in mid-2008, according to founder Bob Wagstaff, who invented the product. But the strategy didn’t perform well.
“We spent $40,000 on it and sold practically nothing,” says the 76-year-old, who next cold-called several large retailers, asking them to carry the product, to no avail.
Unsure why his efforts failed, Mr. Wagstaff approached a marketing professor at Brigham Young University about his dilemma. The professor agreed to let Mr. Wagstaff solicit students for suggestions on how to get the word out. One student suggested creating a YouTube video and volunteered to take up the task. Mr. Wagstaff accepted the offer, which resulted in a comedic two-minute video that cost about $500 to make. It quickly went viral and a series of related videos also made by the same student, now Orabrush’s chief marketing officer, followed soon after.
Today, the company has its own YouTube channel that boasts more than 39 million views and 160,000 subscribers, who get alerts whenever a new video is posted to it. The channel, called Cure Bad Breath, is the third most popular YouTube channel behind OldSpice (No. 1) Apple (No. 2), according to Vidstax.com, a Web-analytics firm. Orabrush also has nearly 300,000 fans on Facebook, which the company uses to promote its videos.
Cure Bad Breath features 88 original shorts, all comedies, with titles like “Diary of a Dirty Tongue,” “World’s Biggest Tongue,” and “Is Your Tongue Kissable? Does Your Breath Stink?” The company’s more recent videos are slicker than the originals and cost more to produce — between $3,000 and $5,000, says Orabrush’s CEO, Jeff Davis. Most of the actors in them are college students and recent graduates, which are also the company’s biggest customers.
Wal-Mart didn’t base its decision to stock the tongue cleaner on Orabrush’s YouTube popularity, says Tara Raddohl, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, but she notes the company’s YouTube videos likely raised its profile among consumers.
Orabrush’s Mr. Davis says he credits the company’s social-media efforts for helping get the tongue cleaner into other retail stores. In some cases, he says store managers approached Orabrush on their own, citing requests for the product from customers who’d learned about it online.
While Wal-Mart didn’t reach out to Orabrush this way, Mr. Davis says, the retailer “knew we had sold almost a million units online before we even talked to them.” He further adds that Orabrush, a 28-employee firm, is on track to post $10 million in annual revenue this year after generating just $2 million in 2010.
Still, posting a video on YouTube far from guarantees success.
Larry Chiagouris, professor of marketing at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business, says that while it may not take a lot of time or money for a small business to promote itself on a social-media outlet like YouTube, success can be tough to achieve and the odds of a video going viral are slim.
“Making a video that’s interesting and provocative usually requires some degree of skill,” he says. “It has to be something people want to share. That’s what gets it going.”
It also helps to have an affordable product that offers value to the consumer, he adds.
That said, the effort to make a compelling marketing video could pay off in a big way. “If you’re close to closing a deal with a major retailer,” says Mr. Chiagouris, “something like this could put you over the top.”