After more than 50 million viral-video hits behind its campaign to sell tongue cleaners to people, Orabrush has a new target -- their dogs.
Orapup tongue cleaners start shipping today after more than $750,000 in pre-orders via Amazon thanks to a viral-video campaign of its own. While sales of Orabrush and Orapup remain microscopic compared to the billion-dollar-plus behemoths of pet care, Orapup's in-house created YouTube channel already has 4 million views -- more than Nestle's Purina or Procter & Gamble Co.'s Iams.
That owes in part to backing from Orabrush's fans. The internet's favorite tongue-cleaner empire has more than 42 million channel views and 55 million video views, placing it No. 109 among all YouTube channels, per VisStatsX.com. By channel views, Orabrush ranks ahead of Old Spice, Universal Pictures, Vevo's Lady Gaga channel -- and Barack Obama – though each of them has more video views than Orabrush.
Fans, or as the company calls them "Orabuddies," repeatedly suggested that Orabrush make tongue brushes to combat dogs' bad breath. Orabrush's 78-year-old inventor, appropriately named Bob Wagstaff, was convinced. He was so dogged that at one point last year he made an unannounced visit to CEO Jeff Davis' house to press his case by giving the family pooch a tongue cleansing.
Then Mr. Davis was convinced, finding that far from a chore, using the Orapup was "an emotional bonding experience" with his beagle-pug mix.
Mr. Davis decided to test the idea through crowd-funding site Indiegogo.com, where Orabrush raised more than $60,000 by selling doggie tongue-cleaners, getting feedback and buzz in the process.
But really, tongue cleaners for dogs?
People who've tried brushing dogs' teeth know it usually doesn't go over well. Jamming the brush deeper into Fido's mouth seems that much more daunting.
That's where "the secret sauce," as Mr. Davis calls it, comes in. Orapup comes with a beef- or bacon-flavored sauce with enzymes and other plaque-fighting ingredients. As dogs voluntarily lick it off the brush, they clean their tongues. Mr. Davis said the enzymes help the beef or bacon smell go away, too.
Dogs seem to love it, evidenced by several eagerly lapping it off the brushes in the Orapup video. Then again, in classic problem-solution format, the video also shows dogs drinking out of toilets and eating the contents of trash cans and baby diapers, hence the need for tongue cleaning.
The secret sauce has another benefit for the marketer. It's a consumable. No matter how much Orabrush might suggest otherwise, people can use tongue brushes a long time without replacing them. But they need to keep buying the sauce to use Orapup. So it's a bit of a razor-blade model, with replacement batches of sauce now priced at $8.
Orabrush remains small by consumer packaged-goods standards, though it more than doubled offline sales to $3.5 million in the 52 weeks ended Jan. 27, according to SymphonyIRI. That doesn't include online sales, which Orabrush doesn't disclose. Early orders for Orapup suggest a healthy appetite: More than 60,000 transactions averaging more than $24.
Behind all that is a highly data-driven organization headed by former P&G sales executive Mr. Davis, who's been investing heavily in analytics even if he hasn't spent much on media. Orabrush has spent under $60,000 on measured online display, per Kantar Media, the past two years through November 2012.
"People have this belief we're just lucky," Mr. Davis said. "There's nothing lucky about going viral in the Orabrush model. We're advertising. We're using that advertising to do the modeling and predict behavior on everything from pricing to messaging and packaging. It's all done behind the scenes. We know from our relationship with Google that we get the highest amount of views for the lowest cost-per-view based on our advertising model."
Recently, Orabrush has been using geo-targeted YouTube advertising to drive sales near stores that carry its products, producing sales bumps of around 150% when it does, Mr. Davis said. He's not ready to move Orapup into offline distribution yet, but said when he does it will most likely be in partnership with a bigger CPG player that has existing distribution in pet channels.
Orabrush's "secret sauce," what Mr. Davis calls the "reverse marketing model," means generating online awareness and demand before seeking offline distribution. It's just like the direct-response TV model, only using YouTube, Facebook and search ads for much less cost than remnant TV.
In fact, DRTV giant Guthy-Renker, marketer of Proactiv, had a trial partnership with Orabrush late last year to market X Out, its newer teen-focused acne-fighting brand, though Mr. Davis said both companies have since decided to pursue "higher-priority projects."
Orapup is the latest in a mini-trend toward adapting products for humans to potentially bigger markets for pets. Energizer Holdings last year adapted its Diaper Genie disposal system for baby diapers to Litter Genie for cats. Chairman-CEO Ward Klein noted at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference Feb. 21 that while there are only around 8 million babies in the U.S. who stay in diapers only two to three years, the country has 80 million cats who use their litter boxes many more years.