How to make one of the greatest YouTube ads of all time

YouTube celebrated its 10th birthday celebrations by asking fans which is the greatest viral video of all time, Orabrush details how it made the top 20.

Orabrush: going viral on just $500
Orabrush: going viral on just $500

The poll result saw Turkish Airlines take the most votes for its Kobe vs Messi Selfie Shootout ad. The top 20 featured everything from serious gamechangers like Always' 'Like A Girl' Super Bowl ad, to the more rough-and-ready Dollar Shave Club's 'Our Blades Are F**king Great'.

It also features Orabrush, first released in 2009 and one of the older ads on the list. Orabrush sells tongue scrapers, which may be even less sexy than a toothbrush, but came to viral fame for its up-front tutorial on being able to tell when you have bad breath.

Jeff Davis, former Orabrush CEO and now video marketer at Molio, spoke to Marketing about how a tongue cleaner became an early sensation.

What was your involvement in the creation of the YouTube series?

I was brought on as an angel investor in 2009 assisted to set up a board and eventually transitioned into the chief executive role in 2010.

Orabrush founder 80-year-old Robert "Dr. Bob" Wagstaff invented the Orabrush tongue cleaner in the early 2000s to help cure bad breath.

A decade of failed marketing ventures later, including a costly infomercial, Dr. Bob was unable to find an audience for his tongue cleaner. It wasn't until he joined forces with a college student in 2009 to produce this iconic YouTube video that Orabrush took off. That video proved to be the launching pad for many more funny, informative videos about bad breath and the Orabrush.

Why YouTube?

Jeffrey Harmon, the college student that partnered with Dr. Bob, thought the gunk that comes off your tongue with the Orabrush was suited to video and identified YouTube as the perfect place to create this educational, entertaining video about bad breath.

What was your relationship with YouTube like?

YouTube had just launched what would become its most successful ad format – TrueView, which gave viewers the option to choose the ads they want to watch. We were at the forefront of advertising on YouTube, and by our own estimates, we were buying about 90% of YouTube’s inventory in these early days. It was hard to miss this video back then.

We were advertising almost exclusively on YouTube. Naturally, Google was thrilled to see us regularly spending on its video platform, and we worked very closely with them throughout Orabrush’s entirety, and continue to do so at Molio.

What was the immediate impact of the video?

We sold $1m's worth of tongue cleaners online a year after the video. An ancillary benefit was that consumers began asking their local retailers to carry the tongue cleaner in their stores and uploading their own reviews of the product on YouTube.

Orabrush went on to be stocked on store shelves in 25 countries, and the majority of our international retail partnerships came because retailers called us because they were being bombarded by shopper requests.

It showed us the reach and impact of YouTube. Orabrush became one of the first products to be commercialized on a global level using YouTube videos, according to Google.

How much did you spend?

The original Bad Breath video was shot for $500 and is probably the highest ROI content ever. It starred Austin Craig as The Orabrush Guy.

We went on to launch a weekly web series, Diary of a Dirty Tongue. It allowed us to build up a subscriber base and gave viewers a reason each week to come back to our channel and interact with us. We spent anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000 on each video. The actor in those videos is Dave Ackerman, who also became the face of our brand.

How do you see ads on YouTube as having evolved, compared to those early days?

Having beat the YouTube drum for nearly five years now, it is very validating to see major brands jumping on board.

They’re realising that to be successful, they can’t simply transplant their TV ads to their channels. They have to create content optimised for YouTube. It’s a community and you have to speak their language.

What's your advice for brands?

My tip would be don’t try to go viral. Despite our viral success, we never shoot for virality with our videos — we aim to build a dedicated, loyal following and create sustained engagement that keeps them coming back to our channel again and again.

That being said, if a video of yours is making the rounds on social media, don’t be shy to promote it to accelerate viewership and conversion.

Who will win in video - YouTube or another service like Facebook?

The short version is that YouTube is still the most important and valuable video platform for building a brand.

Facebook is aggressively improving its video product, and its targeting capabilities exceed YouTube’s, but YouTube still wins out.