Just about everyone in advertising or marketing who isn’t already a marketer has dreamed of having that winning product that will allow them to reap the fruit of their expertise from the client side of the desk, as opposed to that of a vendor. Such was the case back in 2013 when Michael Weinstein was driving across New York’s Westchester County, listening to shock jock Howard Stern on the radio. Weinstein, who today is Chief Marketing Officer for Allstar Products Group, was running a digital agency at the time. Stern had billionaire Mark Cuban as his guest and had thrown down a challenge to his staff: each of them took a turn pitching a product idea to Cuban to see if they could pique the businessman and investor’s interest. When it came time for producer Richie Wilson to pitch, he was flush with an idea: a disposal wet wipe in the shape of a mitten called, Shittens. The entire studio, not to mention the listening audience, was in stitches. Cuban’s response: “Shittens! Everyone needs one!”
A few days later, Weinstein, who had tracked down Richie, the producer who had a novel idea but no idea how to make it a reality, had formed a partnership with the entrepreneur and marketing expert, along with a third-party investor. In short order, the product hit the marketplace and soon coverage was being featured by the likes of the Huffington Post, Yahoo News, Red Book, Unilad, Buzzfeed, Pop Sugar and more — generating an astonishing 200 million impressions. That buzz, in turn, has garnered over seven figures in sales on Amazon and the product’s own website. On the e-commerce giant’s website, the product has 212 customer reviews with an average of 4-1/2 stars fueled by everything from its “why didn’t I think of that?” practical utility to a desire to give the ultimate gag gift. Weinstein, who is an accomplished professional musician and Renaissance Man of sorts, having played keyboards throughout the world with members of Meat Loaf, Spyro Gyra, Michael McDonald, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Mariah Carey and Donna Summers, claims all of this has been accomplished while spending less than $100 in advertising, I (forgive me) Shittens you not!
The viral dream — that is, the ability to launch a product without a large advertising budget — is a glint in the eye of every marketer who has ever watched the Dollar Shave Club’s brilliant and hilarious launch video or stood by in awe as the audience for a piece of video content has grown exponentially in the period of a scant few hours or days. So why did Shittens take off? Let us count the ways:
1. It’s funny.
The name is inherently amusing, and just the right side of naughty. The humor helps to disarm what is typically a taboo subject. Share the product and its moniker with anybody and the result is instant laughter… not to mention recognition that it is a simple and brilliant concept. This is how the product engages its audience emotionally.
2. Everyone poops.
As marketers, the first question one should ask themselves is: “What is the size of the market?” How about everybody; i.e., every man, woman, and child on the planet (not to mention pet owner)? That’s as good as it gets.
3. It’s based on a sound argument.
At the heart of Dollar Shave’s success is the argument that people are paying too much for razors — a premise that the vast majority already inherently believes. Similarly, the notion that conventional wipes present risks and mishaps nobody wants a, ahem, hand in, and the product makes perfectly logical sense. This conceit provides the ideal rational counterpoint to the emotional one that the humor elicits.
4. The incredulity It inspires fuels the desire to share.
The absurdity of the product combined with the fact that it is an instant and universal “get”; i.e., you immediately get it, is the sort of perfect storm that turbocharges viral-ness. Put another way, amid all of the distractions created by the internet, our fondest desire is to be surprised and delighted — in as little time as possible. As marketers, we have to answer the call: “Show me something I haven’t seen before!” This item fits that bill like a hand in glove.
The successful fulfillment of the above criteria explains why much of the content examining and satirizing Shittens has occurred organically, versus something that the product owners intentionally seeded in the marketplace. So, for example, completely unbeknownst to Weinstein and company, the product recently made an appearance on the National Geographic Channel’s show, Chain of Command. The series, which follows soldiers fighting terrorism throughout the globe, includes an episode where one of the reality show’s subjects receives a care package. It includes a package of the wet wipes, which the recipient describes as the best gift she has ever received. The result: an immediate bump in sales, a phenomenon that occurs each time Shittens is featured in a piece of content online or offline. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving!
As far as Weinstein is concerned, Shittens is just getting started. In addition to the core product, there are line extensions with a politically correct play on the name, as well as packaging for those with genteel sensibilities. Will it ultimately be a marketing homerun? A single? Perhaps a double? Time will tell…just don’t call it a deuce.
Rick Petry is a direct marketing veteran of over 25 years who has been involved with campaigns that have generated over $1 billion in sales. He provides creative services to both B2C and B2B marketing campaigns and recent projects have included Actegy/Revitive, Education Connection, GOLO, Joybird, and OYO. The author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, Petry has a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema/Television from the University of Southern California and an MBA with a Concentration in Marketing and Sales from Marylhurst University.