Can a startup marketer of tongue cleaners get national distribution through funny YouTube videos and $28 worth of Facebook ads telling Walmart employees they have bad breath? Apparently, yes.
Orabrush, has had more than 39 million views and 160,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel but, until recently, very little distribution. This month, it's entered 3,500 Walmart stores -- without its executives ever stepping foot in the retail giant's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters or meeting a buyer face-to-face. Here's how, at least according to Orabrush, which has a video outlining the process:
Founded in 2009 in Salt Lake City, Orabrush last year was contacted by a Walmart store manager in Utah who wanted to give the product a try in his store. Under a policy revived under Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon, the manager had the authority to do so. He in turn persuaded about 20 others in Utah after a store tour to try Orabrush, which used the data from those sales to try to land a deal with the buyer at Walmart headquarters.
But not the typical way. Utah data or no, it was still hard to get an audience with the buyer. So Orabrush Chief Marketing Officer Jeffrey Harmon earlier this year bought $28 worth of Facebook ads targeted at Walmart employees in Northwest Arkansas reading: "Walmart employees have bad breath. Walmart needs to carry Orabrush. It will sell better than anything in your store."
The $28 spent on Facebook proved a lot more effective than $20,000 in print ads in retail trade magazines, which only generated calls from other trade magazine sales reps, Mr. Harmon said.
Within 48 hours, he got an e-mail from the buyer, who said her VP also had seen it and believed it was being directed at Walmart employees nationwide. The buyer, after also seeing a DVD and sales kit on the Orabrush story, placed an order for 735,000 tongue cleaners shipped last month.
(Orabrush also has a redacted version of the DVD content posted on YouTube).
A Walmart spokeswoman confirmed the distribution in 3,500 stores, but said she couldn't immediately confirm details of the negotiations or how the deal came about.
Mr. Harmon said it was never the plan to begin national distribution at Walmart, but "Walmart, because of their local program, are now more mobile than a lot of the smaller chains. They can learn faster and adapt."
National distribution with CVS begins next month, he said, and Orabrush already has distribution in the U.K., Japan and Canada, thanks largely to its YouTube following, Mr. Harmon said.
In part, the strategy harks to a bygone era in packaged-goods marketing -- the 1950s -- when marketers would force distribution by first turning on advertising and getting consumers to pressure retailers. Inquiries from consumers who saw the exploits of Orabrush's "Morgan the Tongue" on YouTube, for example, led U.K. retailer Boots to place an order, Mr. Harmon said.
"We have a reverse marketing model, which means everything is backward from how you would normally launch a product," he said. "Normally you get distribution and your supply chain in order, all your packaging and everything perfected, and then launch an ad campaign and start branding it. We started branding, even changing our logo as we went along and getting everything right messaging wise, and then two years later we're in national retail launching to enough demand that the sales are blowing a lot of retailers away."
That has led to such oddities as nearly 40 million YouTube views, 300,000 Facebook fans for a brand that has sold only about 2 million units, mainly online. Orabrush also has generated about 30 million media impressions through coverage in such outlets as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and ABC "Nightline."
Mr. Harmon acknowledged that the tongue-cleaner business has been small and mostly unsuccessful for retailers up to now, leading to some skepticism. But he said YouTube has worked to get Orabrush distribution, and he'll stick with it to move product off the shelf, too. All the YouTube (and other) advertising has been done in house, mainly with student film makers from Mr. Harmon's alma mater, Brigham Young University.