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Advertising on Toilet Paper… Too Close for Comfort?

For more than a half a century marketers of everything from toiletries to trash cans have used sexy messages to sell their wares and brands to an often, ad over-exposed consumer.  Through the century advertising vehicles of choice have included every conceivable media and arena such as; billboards, television, radio, newsprint, magazines, direct mail, coupon books, message boards, bulletin boards and placemats.  Today’s communication technology has exploded into digital media; the internet, email, social media and mobile applications. In a world where it is said that nothing is finished until the paper work is done, the ultimate in finishing paperwork is taking on a new dimension in advertising.

Last year, Bryan Silverman called a barbecue restaurant a mile from his campus at Duke University to ask the owner whether he would be interested in saving a little money on his facilities costs. The owner, Bill Whittington, was intrigued. Mr. Silverman offered The Blue Note Grill in Durham, N.C., free toilet paper printed with a Quick Response (QR) code ad for the restaurant, as well as ads for other local businesses, in exchange for stocking the toilet paper in the Blue Note’s bathrooms.

One can only imagine the selling skill that was expended in getting around the “yuk factor” and convincing Mr. Whittington to start using the toilet paper ad to offer a buy-one-get-one-free dessert coupon.  Talk about a potential nauseating moment!  Wittington says, “The toilet paper is a great gimmick for the restaurant, on a busy night, we’ll see customers come out of the bathroom with a foot and a half of toilet paper, and everyone at the table will be looking at it. It creates a lot of conversation in the restaurant, too. People ask if they can take some with them if they are traveling from out of town.”

The concept was the brainchild of brothers Bryan and Jordan Silverman who founded Star Toilet Paper in 2011.  The brothers have turned bathroom tissue into a new media platform and print advertisements and QR code promotions that allow advertisers to offer content that can be downloaded on smartphones. Each roll has a series of eight ads that repeat. Advertisers pay just $5 per C.P.M., or cost per thousand views, to tap into a host of mobile advertising options. By utilizing QR codes and SMS text ads, companies that advertise with Star are able to use the toilet paper as an innovative jumping off point to further brand interaction.  The company concentrates on places like restaurants and theaters, but their goal is to eventually provide their toilet paper to a bigger audience in places like stadiums and university buildings.

The Fish Doctors of Ann Arbor, Mich., an aquarium business run by Tom Campbell, was Star’s first advertiser two years ago. “We’ve been able to flush away our competition since we started using Star Toilet Paper,” said Mr. Campbell, unable to avoid a quip.

Are marketing professionals, who have long advanced the conceptual importance of proper brand placement that doesn’t transfer negative, subliminal perceptions that diminish brand value, experiencing more than just a little digestive discomfort with this new advertising medium?  In an era of contextual marketing, it seems that advertising messages are getting more up close and personal.

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