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Potty Talk: Marketing an unconventional product

The pooping unicorn. Yes, you read that right. Poop. And unicorn. Mentioned in the same sentence, in a professional business magazine.

If you haven’t seen the viral video by now, it’s probably time you joined the millions of people around the world who have. Not only is it a little eyebrow-raising, but it’s also the perfect foray into a look at how to market an unusual—if not potentially off-putting—product, and doing it so well that sales grow exponentially.

The video is part of an overall marketing strategy from the St. George-based creator and manufacturer of the Squatty Potty. The company’s journey provides an excellent case study on marketing in the digital age, taking calculated risks, and getting big-business results (as in going from less than $0 to more than $18 million in sales in just four years).

For the uninitiated, the Squatty Potty is a specially engineered toilet stool, which, according to the company’s website, “is easy to use and highly effective in positioning the colon for effortless bowel movements.”

Since the product’s launch in 2012, Squatty Potty has changed the conversation about elimination from something polite folks simply never mention to a hot health topic on major media outlets, including The Washington Post, Men’s Health, The Dr. Oz Show and NPR. And while there was plenty of Squatty Potty buzz before the video debuted, the conversation has gotten a whole lot louder since its release in October 2015.

Spin a worldwide web
When it came to launching its product, Squatty Potty knew it needed to tell the world what it offered and educate them on why everyone would want it. Bobby Edwards, Squatty Potty CEO, explains they started by: 1) building a robust website, and 2) connecting with online influencers.

He says, “We built the website based around feedback from friends, family and people in the health community. We did some research on what people were searching for in constipation—the people we were targeting were those who’d heard of the squatting concept. We knew there wasn’t a device out there that really worked, so we highlighted that in all our conversation and copy on website. With enough key words and enriched content in our website, people found us.”

Edwards also sent out hundreds of samples to health writers, food bloggers and mommy bloggers. “We got dozens of positive reviews on their websites and blogs—not just about the product, but about our bravery to talk about this, to bring this to attention,” says Edwards.

In the spotlight
From there, media started to take notice, and Squatty Potty was adept at making the most of it. From an early appearance on The Dr. Oz Show to parlaying several months of on-air mentions on The Howard Stern Show into an official sponsorship, it capitalized on earned media attention and was selective about paid media opportunities.

When The Shark Tank (which had previously turned the company down due to a former producer who couldn’t quite “stomach” the topic) brought them on air, Edwards and his mother, co-creator Judy Edwards, did everything they could to prep for the gig. They successfully wooed Shark Tank investor Lori Greiner and leveraged all the added publicity and after-show opportunities that provided.

Going viral
Each phase of the company’s marketing and public relations brought in increased sales, but its biggest coup came with the now-famous video. Edwards approached the Harmon Brothers, a Provo-based video production company that had helped produce measurable results for companies like Poo-Pourri and Orabrush, to see what they would propose. The pitch came back: how about a video starring a unicorn puppet jettisoning Technicolor soft-serve goodies, accompanied by a Prince Charming narrator/elimination educator? Edwards admits the Squatty Potty team was skittish. But he and his parents decided during a long drive to California to just go for it.

After the video’s debut in October, by the end of January 2016, online sales had already increased by a total of 600 percent and retail sales by 200 percent. “It’s still getting viewership, and it’s still converting customers. We had estimated sales of $12 million last year. We reached $18 million, and we’ve had to readjust for 2016—we’re hoping to do $25 million.”

Edwards points out the message in unconventional advertising is just as important as the humor, cautioning, “You can create a video that lots of people watch, but you need to start conversations. The video was true to that. It’s not only entertainment; it educates—it’s edutainment. We talked about the problem and the solution. We needed people to buy, and they do.”

From sound online tactics to the right mix of marketing bravado, Squatty Potty has proven you can promote an unusual product successfully, even if it requires a little potty talk.