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Provo's Orabrush becomes YouTube 'pop culture,' sales soar

Published: Saturday, Nov. 27 2010 9:09 p.m. MST

The Orabrush was invented by a mission president to help missionaries' problems with bad breath in the Philippines.

Winston Armani, Deseret News

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PROVO — A fast-growing Utah County business has become a YouTube sensation, pitching a product its inventor couldn't sell for years.

Now, Orabrush has discovered just the right tongue-in-cheek humor to "cure the world of bad breath" with its tongue brushes that are selling worldwide.

"It's a strange phenomenon, I certainly did not anticipate this happening," says Austin Craig, a 20-something YouTube pitchman for the product. He plays a character in a lab coat who seems to know everything about bad breath, and more importantly, how to cure it.

In a way, Craig and Orabrush are helping define the marketing technique with each new video on YouTube.

Each week, 50,000 fans tune in to catch up with the self-deprecating escapades of Morgan the Orabrush Tongue, and his "Diaries of a Dirty Tongue." Dave Ackerman, a stand-up comic, plays Morgan.

They're all a bit amazed at how wacky ads on YouTube deliver sales results.

"People tune in and kind of don't even realize that they're watching a five-minute commercial every Tuesday," says Ackerman. "Every week, we have people e-mail us to say, 'This was hilarious; I just ordered my Orabrush.' "

Craig was the first to go viral as The Orabrush Guy. He says he simply made a video one night with friends.

"A couple weeks later, my co-workers are saying, 'Have you checked the view count on your video? It's got tens of thousands of views. It's got 50,000 views. You're hitting 100,000 views. Have you watched this?' "

There were 13 million hits on that first video and 30 million views of the series. Since Orabrush launched exclusively on YouTube and Facebook, its sales soared from zero to $1 million in less than a year. The Orabrush is in 20 Walmarts along the Wasatch Front and 30 retailers globally, after years of retail rejections for the Springville inventor.

"For every $2 of advertising, we sold $1 worth of product," says Robert Wagstaff, chuckling about his early futile efforts.

As a mission president for the Mormon church in the Philippines, Wagstaff was getting complaints about the bad breath of his missionaries. He had some science background and eventually invented the Orabrush to solve the problem.

But, Wagstaff never made a dime on his invention until he found Jeff Harmon in a BYU business class and followed his blueprint for Internet success.

Last year, the work paid off.

"In August, we made our first sale. Never made money in August. But, we did in September and October and November, and the rest is history," Wagstaff said.

CEO Jeff Davis was a former Procter & Gamble executive. Their strategy was to develop a friendship with potential customers, raise their awareness about bad breath and sell them a cheap, simple product.

"We are going through channels to get our message out, create awareness and encourage people to purchase the product," he says. "We've just done it in a reverse way."

While it's a "reverse marketing" model, Davis says Orabrush needed all of the components of typical marketing to succeed: a good product, good science behind the product and an engaging message delivered by motivated workers.

Orabrush has 250,000 Facebook fans. Colgate and Crest have less than a fifth of that. Now, Orabrush plans to translate that Internet success into even bigger retail sales.

A 76-year-old inventor, a Fortune 500 executive and a handful of whiz kids and creative types from BYU have created business mix that is, well, cleaning up.

"Wow, we're like pop culture right now," says Ackerman with a big grin. "We're something out there."

e-mail: jboal@desnews.com

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