Intercultural scholar Gary Fontaine has called it ‘one of the world’s most persistent intercultural challenges.’ Archaeologists study it as a cultural artifact. You would likely approach it carefully when traveling abroad. What is it? It’s a toilet. That’s right, a potty. And although its function is universal, its design and use can differ significantly from one culture to another.
Now, imagine you work for a company that manufactures and sells toilets, and your job is to promote a new model in a different culture. That’s what Swiss manufacturer Geberit asked Danish public relations firm Kragelund Kommunikation to do when it wanted to introduce its AquaClean shower toilet to Denmark. In case you’re wondering what a shower toilet is, here’s how the AquaClean website explains it: “A shower toilet combines the functionality of a toilet and the cleaning properties of a bidet… at the touch of a button, the concealed spray arm extends and washes you clean with a jet of pleasantly warm water.”
In developing strategy, the agency studied Danish and international toilet habits. (Don’t ask me how they did this.) They identified some important market challenges, including the high price of the product at €4,500 and lack of consumer knowledge—less than 5% of Danes had a bidet and 0% owned a shower toilet at the time. These challenges were compounded by the fact that Danish consumers tended to think of the toilet as a plumbing item and not a ‘lifestyle product.’ In other words, one of the biggest obstacles for Geberit and its public relations agency was cultural. Shower toilets and bidets were “considered oddities and taboos in Scandinavia.”
The campaign, which the International Public Relations Network (IPRN) recognized as the overall winner of its business-to-consumer project of the year award, focused on middle-to-high-income Danes aged 35 and up. The communication strategy relied on both information and emotion by emphasizing hygienic benefits and promoting cleanliness and well being.
Kragelund Kommunikation set up opportunities for journalists from newspapers and high-end design magazines to “try the product themselves in exclusive surroundings,” including a press trip to Paris. They also partnered with the ritzy Hotel D’Angleterre in Copenhagen, which installed the shower toilets in all its rooms. Story angles included humor (“the toilet is our armchair”), cleanliness (“we feel unclean despite strong personal hygiene”), business (“large Swiss corporation aims for Denmark”) and technology (“high tech toilets with fancy features”).
The press trip was a success, and the story angles were effective with Danish media. Prominent bloggers also wrote about the product. While most metrics focused on media coverage and impressions, the image of Danish TV host Søren Jensen reporting “with his trousers round his ankles and sitting on an AquaClean toilet in the studio” indicates that a cultural barrier had been breached. The client later extended the campaign to other regions.
Introducing an expensive high-tech toilet to a new culture is one kind of challenge. Another is introducing a low-tech product like the Squatty Potty. Basically a step that slides against the side of a toilet, Squatty Potty allows people to do their business more like people did before modern toilets were commonplace.
Despite the cultural awkwardness of the topic, Squatty Potty’s creator Robert Edwards managed to win the opportunity to pitch his idea on ABC’s Shark Tank, where he and his mother persuaded Lori Greiner to invest $350,000 in the business. The show’s producers were reluctant to feature a bathroom-related product on the show, but Edwards persisted by emphasizing a health angle. “In our second [audition] tape we really nailed down that Squatty Potty is a health tool,” Edwards said in an interview. The Squatty Potty also has been featured on health shows including The Doctors and The Dr. Oz Show and has its own Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram accounts, as well as a YouTube video with more than 15 million views. It even has a major YouTube hit with a video of a unicorn and rainbow-colored soft-serve ice cream to illustrate “the effects of improper toilet posture and how it can affect your health.”