NEW YORK (
) -- The story of
, in which an unknown company becomes a giant brand approaching $10 million in annual sales in just two and a half years, proves the power of social media.
Essentially the company provides products -- a tongue cleaner and now a tongue foam -- to help in the fight against bad breath.
Orabrush was created in 2000 by biochemist Robert "Dr. Bob" Wagstaff. Years of effort failed to get the product on retailer shelves or selling through infomercials or other oral care companies.
With some new young talent schooled in social media and on board with the product's effectiveness, Orabrush launched a YouTube campaign in 2009 with its original "Bad Breath Test" video, which now has more than 16 million views.
Today Orabrush is the third-most-subscribed sponsored
, right behind
Procter & Gamble's
Old Spice and
. With 180,000 subscribers, it has more than 45 million views for its 100 videos. The company also has more than 310,000 fans on its Facebook page.
Orabrush has made a name for itself among such juggernauts as P&G,
S.C. Johnson & Son
. Orabrush is now available in more than 20,000 stores worldwide, including through
stores in the U.S. It is a remarkable milestone for a company that used only a so-called reverse marketing strategy to advertise its products.
"The growth we have had as a company over the past two years has been truly amazing, and it is due almost entirely to our focus on using the Internet," Orabrush CEO Jeff Davis said in a January press release. "The Internet has changed every aspect of how people consume media and advertising, and the old methods and tactics just don't work as well anymore. Our 'reverse marketing' model has helped us reach a huge, untapped audience and opened a lot of doors that had previously been closed."
Davis, a former P&G executive, became Orabrush's chief executive in January 2010. He spoke with us last week about the company's success. Below are excerpts from the interview:
Why was Dr. Wagstaff having such trouble marketing the product?
I think it's a common problem for a lot of entrepreneurs. You know the tongue cleaner certainly wasn't a common household practice. People weren't aware that 90% of bad breath comes from bacteria on your tongue. The product absolutely worked ... but in fact you can't launch a product on social media marketing or YouTube without having the product work.
I think one of the reasons why we were so successful in selling the product online is that the video was incredibly informative, educational, humorous and also had a call to action that for $5 if you think you or your partner or your spouse might have bad breath it was worth the risk to give that a shot. It then became an opportunity for us to really educate on a medium -- YouTube. A company like Orabrush could never have afforded traditional mediums or getting into the retail outlets with the level of promotional money needed. The opportunity to get that message out on Facebook and YouTube really then translated into sales online and then, importantly, sales offline.
So why were the videos so successful?
The whole company of Orabrush is designed to create the content for the medium YouTube. That original bad breath video, which cost $500 to shoot -- and was shot in a pool hall -- has gone viral. What does it mean to go viral? It means the content was so good that it was shared by a number of people across a number of outlets. What was in that video? It's educational, there's no question you come away with the belief that there is a scientific premise behind bacteria in your mouth and its correlation to bad breath. It's incredibly funny and then, importantly, at the end it has a real call to action. As a result of that original work that we did we've continued to have a very successful run on video creation, creative content and video execution.
How do you keep the momentum going?
That's a great question. It's still one that keeps me up a little bit late at night because one of my questions is how do you sustain this incredible run in social media metrics that we've produced? And I'm not sure I know all the answers.
I do know that there two things that are driving our success -- creating and executing the content in a way that is engaging to consumers. People are opting to come and see us -- they're opting to subscribe to our channel, which is essentially giving me a green light to advertise to them. Secondly, we do have a way in which we write the scripts, shoot the YouTube videos and promote them online and we use them to promote offline. So we're exposing that crowd to our content in several different ways, and it certainly has been good enough for them to keep coming back.
We call it actually reverse marketing. Everything that I learned in P&G and traditional methods, we're doing in reverse. Normally you would have an idea, do a test market, sell it to retailers, get distribution and then turn on marketing to try and drive people in. We do it just the opposite: We create global awareness on social media and online purchase first and then distribution in the offline world second.
I believe that what we are doing can be disruptive to the current traditional methods of how consumer products go to the marketplace. We think we can be the QVC of YouTube, and that's what we're shooting for.
-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.
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