Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration
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Design principles for 21st century companies, markets, and economies. Foreword by Gary Hamel. Coming January 4th. Pre-order at Amazon.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Toilet 2.0

I was cruising around Gizmodo when I came across an ad that deserved to be clicked. Now let me be the first to admit, I never, ever, click on ads: mainly because I don't care for a cheaper mortgage (or whatever) and also to optimize my internet browsing efficiency. But this time I was intrigued:

Are they selling a bidet to US customers? No this isn't a bidet, this looks like a next-gen toilet. So I clicked on the ad and I have to hand it to Toto, they have done a remarkable job marketing what is basically Toilet 2.0.

For the uninitiated, Washlet is an add-on to your existing toilet, essentially all you're doing is replacing your existing toilet seat with a newer, high tech one. While I'm sure there is some minor plumbing involved, the Washlet will:
  • wash
  • dry (using air)
  • open and close automatically
  • flush
I'm sure when Toto analyzed the market, the pure install base (in terms of toilets) is astronomical ('ass-tronomical', but that was too immature even for me), probably in the hundreds of millions. Even a thin slice of the market, represents a tremendous opportunity and therein lies the challenge-

While in the rest of the world the concept of using water for cleaning purposes is well established, the US remains (solidly) a toilet paper friendly society. Personally, I marvel that Western civilization has produced airplanes, computers, biotechnology, and yet it finds that a sleeve of paper is the best way to cleanse the goods. It just doesn't seem to be the most efficient and hygienic method of tackling the job. And that's Toto's challenge: how do you educate a market to cause a fundamental shift is consumer behavior and consumption patterns? Essentially your 'competition' is a cheap roll of toilet paper which continues to get the job done.

The early part of this campaign will require education but they will need to tie their product to a better value proposition, to justify an order of magnitude increase in spending i.e. Washlet vs. toilet paper, and to supersede the toilet paper competition (if that is a product goal). Potentially the value proposition will be based on time saved, or better health.

This would make a great business school case! It is honestly a problem that required some seriously creative thinking. Look, I'm not sure if Toto will alter the entire market but they have done a great job of introducing the Washlet by using a touch of humor, being tactful and staying on message the entire time.

-- kh // 2:34 AM // 3 comments


I remodeled a bathroom several years ago and selected a Toto Washlet. I have a very frugal friend who visited not long after it was installed, and who went to use it. Upon his return some twenty minutes later, he said, "I don't know what you paid for that toilet, but whatever it was, it wasn't enough."
// Blogger Bruce // 4:12 AM

There's an American company making these as well - pretty nice styling and design.

some of the other seats out there look like medical devices so it's good to see some style here....check them out at - I think it's called the swash
// Anonymous Anonymous // 5:21 PM

I agree that this is a huge challenge for Toto's marketing organization. However, I don't know what extent Americans are ready to buy that their toilet seats, and the means by which their nether regions are cleaned, will make them "more confident," which was one of the repeated benefit statements in the otherwise fairly compelling flash-introduction and demo.

How well has "anti-bacterial everything" sold to the legions of moms across the US, eager, wallet in hand, to protect their children from any sort of pathogen, real or imagined?

It would seem to me that the good move here would be to pitch this as the more advanced way of going about this business, and that toilet paper is archaic. Americans love technology, especially technology that can be embraced, and then allow the embracer to look back at former technologies and scoff.

Regardless, the touch of humor in the marketing is welcome
// Blogger Pete Kazanjy // 6:20 AM

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