PR: Toothbrush Swap Swamps London


Public relations can be an excellent tool for promoting a new product and getting the consumers’ attention, but sometimes it can backfire. This was the case with Colgate’s Electric Tooth Brush swap event launched in London’s Waterloo Train Station this summer. The event promised consumers that they could swap an old electric toothbrush for a new Colgate toothbrush priced at $256.

The offer got plenty of attention, but perhaps it got too much attention. By 5:00 a.m., hundreds of eager people had swamped the rail station, holding their old toothbrushes and looking for the new freebie brush. The problem: Colgate had only brought 750 of the new brushes and ran out of supplies in the first few hours!

Unfortunately, since marketing is now in the age of Twitter and instant communication, the fiasco was publically followed by thousands of Londoners throughout the day as the company tried to mend fences and meet demands. Colgate’s competitors also entered the fray with Phillips comparing its own electric toothbrush in print ads and offering its own  promotion swap for Phillips’ Sonic Care electric toothbrush.

In the end, Colgate revised the promotion to be online, giving away 7,000 new electric toothbrushes to eager consumers.

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss the use of public relations as a marketing tactic. What are the pros and cons of using PR?
  2. View the Colgate video:
  3. Discuss what happened in London for Colgate? What were the major flaws in the program? How could the program have been run smoother?
  4. Divide students into teams. Have each team select a common household product such as toothpaste, broom, soap, etc.
  5. Then, have each team develop a possible PR event to draw consumers. Have students define the marketing mix as well as identify the target market for the campaign.
  6. What are the main planning considerations?
  7. How does social media tracking, such as Twitter, impact marketing activities? What should companies do to maximize Twitter during such events?

Source:, 7/16/13

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