The 1M/1M Deal Radar: Orabrush, Provo, Utah

Orabrush is an e-commerce business that has made extensive use of social media to create demand for what can be an overlooked product – a tongue cleaner – among a variety of consumer demographics. We showcase it in today’s Deal Radar as an example of how new products can be brought to market using Internet marketing channels.

Tongue cleaners have been used since ancient times in the East and are an important part of an ayurvedic hygiene routine. They remove bacteria, which causes 80 to 90 per cent of chronic bad breath cases. In contemporary times, products such as chewing gum, mouthwash, rinses, and sprays have been heavily marketed in the West as good ways to get rid of bad breath, but tongue cleaners and scrapers have been gaining in popularity as more people become aware of how much bacteria collects on the tongue.

In recent times, the marketing landscape in oral hygiene has been somewhat crowded and stagnant. Orabrush wants to open consumers’ eyes to the entire category by providing a unique tongue cleaner. It says that Orabrush sales in retail settings are lifting sales in the entire category; that is, competitors’ sales are increasing as well. The company sees this opportunity, similar to mouth rinse, floss, and whitening, as an additional opportunity for increased incremental revenues in the oral hygiene category and a way to solve the socially embarrassing problem of bad breath.

Since virtually everyone has a tongue, Orabrush sees its market as quite large. The target market would be all people who buy toothbrushes at the high range and at least those who buy floss, mouth rinses, and other interdental items at the low range. Men and women ages 15 to 30 who are extremely focused on oral hygiene are the main target segment. Within this, teens are a big segment because they tend to watch the most YouTube videos and, as digital natives, often use social media daily. They are also focused on eliminating bad breath for social reasons.

The Orabrush tongue cleaner was invented in a basement shop nearly a decade ago by company chairman Robert Wagstaff, Ph.D. After seven years of securing the appropriate patents and FDA approvals, Wagstaff attempted to bring his Orabrush to market, even creating a $50,000 infomercial which provided very little traction. In a last-ditch effort, he took his product and marketing issue to a local university and met Jeffrey Harmon, a student attending his last class before graduating. Harmon said he could sell the Orabrush over the Internet using Facebook and YouTube. Wagstaff hired Harmon and the company began its journey into social media and Internet sales. The senior management team also includes president Jeff Davis, who has 23 years of experience in sales, marketing, and general management at Procter & Gamble both domestically and abroad; and COO Neil Harmon, who has broad expertise in applications geared to strategic online growth.

Using a reverse marketing strategy, the company created social media activities on YouTube and Facebook to create buzz about, awareness of, and demand for the Orabrush, which has led the way to Internet sales and most recently retail. Orabrush has sold more than a half a million units of product over the Internet in more than 100 countries around the world and says it receives calls on a regular basis from retailers asking how they can get the product on their shelves. For example, the UK pharmacy chain Boots began carrying the Orabrush due to the demand they received from customers asking where they could buy the product after seeing the videos on YouTube.

The Orabrush is designed to help cure bad breath through a combination of ultra-soft, pointed bristles that reach deep into the uneven crevices of the tongue to dislodge bacteria and an integrated scraper. The scraper gently squeegees away the gunk to leave a clean, pink tongue. The brushes sell for two for $8.99 on Orabrush’s website, and the recommended retail price is $4.99.

The company considers its number one competitor to be toothbrushes, the most commonly used oral hygiene item today in tongue cleaning. Toothbrush makers such as Oral-B claim that tongue cleaners are unnecessary; indeed, on its website Oral-B says, “Although tongue scrapers are harmless, you can probably prevent halitosis just as well by following a consistent oral care routine of twice-daily tooth brushing and daily flossing.”

Not so, says Orabrush. The problem lies in the design of toothbrushes: the tufted bristles are tightly compacted to clean the hard and smooth surfaces of teeth, but this does not allow for good access to the grooved surface of the tongue. It also says that its combination brush and scraper has proven to be more effective in removing all layers of bacteria than other tongue scrapers, for example Dentek and Dr. Tung, which are secondary competitors.

At present, Orabrush has chain-wide distribution in 40 retailers globally: London Drugs and Rexall in Canada, Boots in the UK, Wellness Japan in Tokyo, and Terry White in Australia. The product has been accepted in Winn Dixie, Albertsons, HEB, Fred Meyer, Costco, Sam’s Club, Cardinal Health, McKesson,,, Harris Teeter, Food Lion, and others. The company has run a full launch test of 20 Walmarts in Utah, where it says brushes are selling at the level of premium toothbrushes (e.g., Colgate 360 and Oral-B Advantage) at above-average category margins.

Wagstaff funded Orabrush until angel investment was necessary to move things forward more quickly. Angel investments were made in May 2010. Orabrush closed a $2.5 million Series A, which was announced on February 14, 2011, with lead investors are True Partners of Palo Alto, California, and 2X Consumer Product Growth Partners based in Chicago. The company has online sales of $1.5 million.

Orabrush plans to grow by continuing to create high levels of awareness among its target audience; engagement through views and online comments; and most important, converting higher-than-normal online purchases from the Orabrush website (5 to 10 per cent). The current focus is on growing the YouTube platform of subscribers and channel views to drive consumers to retail outlets. In this phase, Orabrush is trying to complete the engagement loop from online-to-store (retailers) and then from store-to-online again. This model begins with YouTube as the platform to launch the product; test the branding, packaging and messaging; and interact with consumers to hone the strategy. Then, when ready, Orabrush will fully launch into retail and amplify with full online marketing along with other traditional marketing mix components to drive consumers to retail outlets. The goal is to become the No. 1 tongue cleaner in the world.

Recommended Readings
curebadbreath, Orabrush’s original YouTube video
E-Commerce Gold Rush

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