Speaking in Tongues

QAOrabrushHow Orabrush transformed a 1920s marketing trick into a YouTube sensation

By now, Orabrush has become something of a digital legend. The product — a $5 brush that removes stinky gunk from the back of your tongue — was a retail failure until the inventor, Dr. Bob Wagstaff, a 76-year-old dentist, took it to a bunch of marketing students at Brigham Young University. Jeffrey Harmon, now CMO of Orabrush, thought he could sell it online. In exchange for the dentist’s motorcycle, he began working on a marketing plan in his off-hours. He made a basic video, and the device started selling.

Enter Austin Craig, an intern at Harmon’s day job, and prone to comical rants. Harmon thought he was funny enough to shoot a $500 video for YouTube, “How to Tell If You Have Bad Breath.” Craig’s comical discourse on “halitophobia” has now been viewed more than 17 million times.

The Orabrush YouTube channel, now with dozens of videos starring Craig, as well as a creepy human tongue named Morgan, have gotten 47 million views, earning more than 332,000 Facebook fans. Using this “reverse marketing method,” the company leveraged online demand for retail distribution, and is now sold in stores around the country, including Walmart.
Craig, 29, a speaker at MediaPost’s Brand Marketers Summit, tells MEDIA what he thinks has fueled Orabrush’s success.

So first things first. What secret can big brands learn from you?

Sorry, but there isn’t a secret. Or a silver bullet. We think it’s a combination of humor and timing and the right creative. And we’re constantly testing. We just tried to figure out what people wanted to see on YouTube. We decided to target teens and tweens because they are the biggest YouTube users and spend the most time there. (And about a quarter of our YouTube audience is teens, and just under two-thirds of the total audience is male.) We knew they liked videos that are fast-talking, framed very tight and personality-driven. And then we made it funny.

Is it hard to make these videos?


Yes! I was a broadcast journalism major, so when Jeff [Harmon], who directed me, would ask me to really push something suggestive over the top — like the part about “before you go to bed”— it was pretty uncomfortable for me.

I think it’s funny that you start out in the video with an invented word, halitophobia. Halitosis is also an invented word, from back in the ’20s, created to sell Listerine. Maybe the world of bad breath hasn’t changed, even in the digital age?


We think it’s funny, too. In our upcoming campaign, we’re going to be doing a lot more of word play.

What else is changing?

We’re expanding the product line, with tongue foam. And we’re changing the video strategy. For at least a year, we were doing a regular series putting out regular content and that grew our audience quite a bit, and increased our social following. Now, we’re getting back to persuading people and selling the product. So there won’t be weekly updates, but we will put out new content monthly.

We are a lot more data driven, and we’re doing much more testing. Titles, tags — we’re even testing different cuts of videos to see which versions drive more sales at the Web sites, and more in stores. There’s a lot of focus on metrics.

What has Orabrush’s video success taught you?

I prefer to be engaged and taught in a way that isn’t going to lose my attention. If you can get some kind of emotive reaction from people, make them raise an eyebrow or smile or laugh, they are going to retain that.

What other brands do you admire on YouTube?

GoPro, a line of action cameras you strap to your helmet when you’re doing extreme sports. The videos are jaw-dropping. And I love that it doesn’t focus on the product, but what people are doing with it.

So what does a YouTube star watch on YouTube for fun?

It doesn’t matter how bad my day is going — I can watch Nathan Barnatt dancing and instantly feel better about life.

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1 comment about "Speaking in Tongues".
  1. John Grono from GAP Research , June 21, 2012 at 10:17 a.m.
    Just a clarification. Your article should say that the word 'halitosis' was popularised in the 1920s with the Listerine campaign, but there is evidence of the usage of the word as far back as 1874.