I was in Utah back when people were still using their toothbrushes to clean their tongues, assuming they even knew tongue hygiene mattered at all. Then a good friend of mine wound up getting involved in a quirky YouTube ad campaign that started with this video:
Fast forward some years, and through a whole lot of pretty amazing breakthroughs in YouTube advertising, Orabrush is now nearly as ubiquitous as the king of hygiene appliances: the toothbrush.
The following is adapted from a conversation I recently had with Austin about Orabrush, and what he thinks of ZoomTilt’s mission and business model. He’s a smart guy, and his responses were good enough that you shouldn’t be surprised to find a follow-up post here sometime in the future. Orabrush’s story and success is strong evidence in support of the ideology that drives ZoomTilt.
Jordan Petersen: First off, tell me the story of how you got involved with Orabrush.
Austin Craig: I got involved with Orabrush on accident. It’s a funny story.
Orabrush was developed by Bob Wagstaff. We call him Doctor Bob, but he’s not a dentist. He has a PhD in Biochemistry and Nutrition. He spent most of his career researching and developing solutions for the consumer market. He started working on the Orabrush when he was managing a group of missionaries [for the Mormon Church] in the Philippines, and heard multiple reports that his missionaries had bad breath. How were they supposed to help and teach people who were offended by their breath stench?
It was years in development, but when he had it market ready, it was the market itself that wasn’t ready. A $40,000 infomercial sold fewer than 100 units. He begged store managers to put it on their shelves, but when they did, it stayed on the shelf. Customers didn’t know what it was, or what it did, so they didn’t bother with it.
In a final reach for help, he went to a class at BYU, and asked them to conduct some market research. His primary question was whether he could sell the Orabrush online. The group that studied it decided the answer was no. According to their research, only 8% of consumers would consider buying online. It was a lost cause. “Better go work on your golf swing, Dr. Bob.”
But one student in the class objected. 8% of the Internet? That’s millions of people. Wasn’t that worth pursuing? Dr. Bob liked that sound of that. They got together and struck a deal. Bob and his new assistant, Jeffrey Harmon, would work nights and weekends. As payment, Bob would give his old motorcycle to Jeffrey. It sure beat the 10-speed he was using at the time.
Jeffrey’s day job was at FamilyLink.com, with me. We were on the social media intern team, tasked with finding the most effective ways to promote on Facebook and Twitter. We spent the whole day in a windowless office on social media. It turns out that even Facebook and Twitter get boring after the 4th hour, so we had to concoct some games to keep ourselves sane. One of the favorites was to push Austin’s buttons. The whole team knew I had strong opinions on politics, technology, company policy, whatever. It didn’t take much more than, “Hey, look at what Congress is doing!” to get me to fly off the handle.
Jeffrey knew my antics, and that I had experience on camera as a broadcast journalism student. He had an idea. “Hey Austin, can you freak out like that, only on camera, and about bad breath?” Sure thing, I said. For $100, I’ll rant and rave about whatever you like.
We filmed after work on a Friday at Oz Pool Hall. I acted, Jeffrey produced/directed, Dr. Bob held the microphone, and our friend Devin Graham filmed and edited the video. It was fun. Afterward, we grabbed some burgers and caught a movie at the dollar theater.
That was the beginning.
Jeffrey worked like crazy in the newly debuted YouTube advertising system, tweaking every knob, dial, and piece of meta-data on the video. With each iteration, testing one variation against another, it became more and more effective, until he knew that for $30 spent, Orabrush would make back $35 in sales. When the campaign is cashflow positive, you can roll all profits back in to growing the campaign, and it snowballs.
Before long, we were making another video. And another. And hiring employees. And more videos. I signed a contract to continue as the official spokesman. It’s just grown ever since.
JP: Would you describe how Orabrush used a running web series to greatest effect in advertisement? What’s more important: entertainment or sales? Or do those priorities evolve over time, and how?
AC: The “Diary of a Dirty Tongue” was something that helped Orabrush in a big way. The video strategy was critical to our company, and involved two prongs. One was our sales videos; videos meant to work mainly as commercials, telling people about the benefits of the Orabrush and where they can buy. The second angle was the web series. Diary of a Dirty Tongue was meant to grow an audience on YouTube. We wanted subscribers, people who grant us permission to communicate with them regularly.
But people don’t want to be sold. You aren’t friends with somebody who is always trying to sell you something. We wanted media content that was valuable as media. We tried to make it funny, playful, and sharable. It starred Morgan, the giant human tongue. Really, it was local standup comedian Dave Ackerman who created the character. We had the concept of a giant, comedic, slovenly tongue. Dave Ackerman brought him to life.
It worked, too. We consistently brought in more and more subscribers. People knew that we’d have a new episode every week. We toyed with different formats, and different days to publish, but through it all, we gained over 150,000 new subscribers. We fostered new fans and brand advocates. People who never would have been interested in Orabrush before came to us through the webseries, and became die hard fans of the brand and product.
After a year and a half of weekly videos, we ended the series. It had been a huge success, but as a company, our efforts were going to other parts of the business. The lesson was clear, though. Good serial content online has an audience.
JP: You recently released a new product called Orapup, an Orabrush for dogs. How did your web series help you introduce this new product?
AC: The primary tie between the web series and the Orapup launch was our subscribers. The fans we gained through the web series were still subscribed when we launched Orapup. We had a ready base to hear about our newest product. The two were separated by about a year, but that subscriber base made a difference in the launch. The initial Orapup video on the Orabrush channel had over 4 million views before we launched the Orapup channel.
Thanks times a hundred to Austin for his willingness to share some of his thoughts with us. We’re encouraged by his experiences, and the success Orabrush has built upon the foundation of high-quality web series.
Do you think Orabrush’s model is replicable? Is their story proof positive that ZoomTilt’s mission and goals are founded upon good theories? Do you have other thoughts about what they’ve done, or what we’re doing? Please, share them in the comments!