Case Spotlight: Tushy Bidets: Beyond the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020

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This case was featured in the June 2024 issue of Connect.

Who – the protagonist

Jason Ojalvo, CEO of Tushy.

What?

In 2015, American entrepreneur Miki Agrawal founded Tushy, a company that produces, markets, and sells a toilet attachment that converts a standard toilet into a bidet.

Common throughout the world, American culture largely shunned bidets, viewing them as somehow ‘weird’ and ‘foreign’.

However, Tushy saw success by targeting a younger market and producing humorous advertisements that employed shock tactics of discussing the taboo topic of defecation.

Bidet spray

Why?

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in toilet paper supplies dwindling and the American population turning towards bidets.

Tushy’s revenues grew from $10 million in 2020 to $15 million in 2021, with bidets the 20th-most-searched term on Amazon in the US.

However, in 2022 revenue growth slowed, and the firm was only on track for $16 million in sales.

Jason was concerned that a change in tactics might be needed and decided to review the company’s current marketing strategy.

When?

With the world slowly returning to normal in 2022, Tushy were struggling to maintain the momentum of the COVID interest in bidets.

Where?

While Americans were slow to embrace the bidet, Europe, South America, and Asia were much more receptive. Known as washlet in Japan, more than 60% of Japanese households had them by the 1980s.

Key quote

“Life will be divided into two sections: Before I ever used a bidet, and the Age of Enlightenment.”
Comedian Kumail Nanjiani.

What next?

How could Tushy continue raising awareness and compel consumer action to seek out the product online? Did Tushy’s marketing tactics need to change, now that toilet paper was back on the shelves and at prices consumers were accustomed to?

The lack of retail presence meant the brand could limit inventory investments, but sales would have to be a product of traffic driven to the website. However, adopting more conventional marketing for the mass market might present challenges because the brand could struggle to remain top of mind.

If the brand failed to remain top of mind, would it lose sales as consumers looked for the product at their local home improvement stores where Tushy was not carried?

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

On the reasons for writing the case…

Matthew said: “The genesis of this case study had two components. The first was when I first came across the web commercial for Tushy bidets and found it hilarious. As a fun way to open one of my marketing management class lectures, I played the video to engage the class. Students also found it hilarious, but when I asked if they would approve of the commercial as a marketing manager, they seemed to be too timid to make a decision. You could see their internal conflict of wanting to say ‘yes’ but having no training on how to handle anything that might offend anyone. They loved the humour, but they assumed that anything that might make anyone uncomfortable should be avoided entirely, so almost all humour should be avoided was their response. There was a complete disconnect in their evaluations, and it became apparent that they didn’t have any basis to think about using such edgy humour. Evidently, this was a curriculum gap in that students appreciated the humour but didn’t know how to work with it. This interaction compelled me to start investigating the research on humour in marketing.

“Secondly, when the COVID-19 lockdown resulted in panic buying of toilet paper, I came across a news segment highlighting the distinction between residential and commercial toilet paper supply chains and distribution channels. I knew then there was a good case study to be written.”

On the case writing highlights…

Matthew continued: “Perhaps the biggest challenge in writing the case was the fact that Tushy is a small, privately held firm that was finding success in selling their bidet attachments during the lockdowns, so they had not engaged in any new marketing campaigns. Their web videos were all pre-COVID, yet the shift in consumer behaviour to explore and embrace bidets happened during the lockdowns. The lapse in time between the shock humour videos and the post-COVID phase was the most challenging aspect to structure.”

On teaching the case…

He added: “The case is written with interdisciplinary content and themes in mind. Additionally, anyone who has ever taught a required core course knows that you might have only half the class enthusiastically engaged, and the others are there because they have to be. The case was written explicitly with this challenge in mind for the instructor. The case is an engagement machine. I often joke with the students, just before I show some of their edgiest web videos, that if they don’t find it funny, then they should seek professional help because something is clearly wrong with them…it’s a guaranteed laugh every time, and the case has yet to fail at engaging the students.”

On how students react to the case…

He commented: “They LOVE it. I have written several case studies, and this one strikes the right balance of fun and educational content, making it a sure-fire winner with the students. I have yet to have a student know just how environmentally harmful toilet paper is until they read the case, and a few students have even told me that they decided to switch majors to marketing after this case study (they were in a required Principles of Marketing course).”

On case writing tips…

Matthew explained: “Case ideas are everywhere, particularly if you pay attention to the news. However, I look for situations with interdisciplinary perspectives as the basis for the most interesting cases. My Tushy case concerns shock humour marketing, consumer behaviour, and environmental impacts. I have found that whenever you encounter a multi-faceted situation, you have what you need to write a great case. The case can aim to capture all facets or narrow them down to what you want to use in the classroom. One additional tip for newer case writers: focus on what current event topics you might want to use in your lecture, then do a deeper dive to turn that into a case.”

Final word…

Matthew concluded: “I often tell colleagues that writing and using a case in the classroom is the secret weapon to driving classroom engagement. Students love to engage with content created by faculty they know. It’s one thing to introduce a current event for discussion, but it is entirely something else to illustrate your expertise and depth of analysis to students in print.”

THE CASE 

The case

Who – the protagonist

Jason Ojalvo, CEO of Tushy.

What?

In 2015, American entrepreneur Miki Agrawal founded Tushy, a company that produces, markets, and sells a toilet attachment that converts a standard toilet into a bidet.

Common throughout the world, American culture largely shunned bidets, viewing them as somehow ‘weird’ and ‘foreign’.

However, Tushy saw success by targeting a younger market and producing humorous advertisements that employed shock tactics of discussing the taboo topic of defecation.

Bidet spray

Why?

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in toilet paper supplies dwindling and the American population turning towards bidets.

Tushy’s revenues grew from $10 million in 2020 to $15 million in 2021, with bidets the 20th-most-searched term on Amazon in the US.

However, in 2022 revenue growth slowed, and the firm was only on track for $16 million in sales.

Jason was concerned that a change in tactics might be needed and decided to review the company’s current marketing strategy.

When?

With the world slowly returning to normal in 2022, Tushy were struggling to maintain the momentum of the COVID interest in bidets.

Where?

While Americans were slow to embrace the bidet, Europe, South America, and Asia were much more receptive. Known as washlet in Japan, more than 60% of Japanese households had them by the 1980s.

Key quote

“Life will be divided into two sections: Before I ever used a bidet, and the Age of Enlightenment.”
Comedian Kumail Nanjiani.

What next?

How could Tushy continue raising awareness and compel consumer action to seek out the product online? Did Tushy’s marketing tactics need to change, now that toilet paper was back on the shelves and at prices consumers were accustomed to?

The lack of retail presence meant the brand could limit inventory investments, but sales would have to be a product of traffic driven to the website. However, adopting more conventional marketing for the mass market might present challenges because the brand could struggle to remain top of mind.

If the brand failed to remain top of mind, would it lose sales as consumers looked for the product at their local home improvement stores where Tushy was not carried?

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

Author perspective

On the reasons for writing the case…

Matthew said: “The genesis of this case study had two components. The first was when I first came across the web commercial for Tushy bidets and found it hilarious. As a fun way to open one of my marketing management class lectures, I played the video to engage the class. Students also found it hilarious, but when I asked if they would approve of the commercial as a marketing manager, they seemed to be too timid to make a decision. You could see their internal conflict of wanting to say ‘yes’ but having no training on how to handle anything that might offend anyone. They loved the humour, but they assumed that anything that might make anyone uncomfortable should be avoided entirely, so almost all humour should be avoided was their response. There was a complete disconnect in their evaluations, and it became apparent that they didn’t have any basis to think about using such edgy humour. Evidently, this was a curriculum gap in that students appreciated the humour but didn’t know how to work with it. This interaction compelled me to start investigating the research on humour in marketing.

“Secondly, when the COVID-19 lockdown resulted in panic buying of toilet paper, I came across a news segment highlighting the distinction between residential and commercial toilet paper supply chains and distribution channels. I knew then there was a good case study to be written.”

On the case writing highlights…

Matthew continued: “Perhaps the biggest challenge in writing the case was the fact that Tushy is a small, privately held firm that was finding success in selling their bidet attachments during the lockdowns, so they had not engaged in any new marketing campaigns. Their web videos were all pre-COVID, yet the shift in consumer behaviour to explore and embrace bidets happened during the lockdowns. The lapse in time between the shock humour videos and the post-COVID phase was the most challenging aspect to structure.”

On teaching the case…

He added: “The case is written with interdisciplinary content and themes in mind. Additionally, anyone who has ever taught a required core course knows that you might have only half the class enthusiastically engaged, and the others are there because they have to be. The case was written explicitly with this challenge in mind for the instructor. The case is an engagement machine. I often joke with the students, just before I show some of their edgiest web videos, that if they don’t find it funny, then they should seek professional help because something is clearly wrong with them…it’s a guaranteed laugh every time, and the case has yet to fail at engaging the students.”

On how students react to the case…

He commented: “They LOVE it. I have written several case studies, and this one strikes the right balance of fun and educational content, making it a sure-fire winner with the students. I have yet to have a student know just how environmentally harmful toilet paper is until they read the case, and a few students have even told me that they decided to switch majors to marketing after this case study (they were in a required Principles of Marketing course).”

On case writing tips…

Matthew explained: “Case ideas are everywhere, particularly if you pay attention to the news. However, I look for situations with interdisciplinary perspectives as the basis for the most interesting cases. My Tushy case concerns shock humour marketing, consumer behaviour, and environmental impacts. I have found that whenever you encounter a multi-faceted situation, you have what you need to write a great case. The case can aim to capture all facets or narrow them down to what you want to use in the classroom. One additional tip for newer case writers: focus on what current event topics you might want to use in your lecture, then do a deeper dive to turn that into a case.”

Final word…

Matthew concluded: “I often tell colleagues that writing and using a case in the classroom is the secret weapon to driving classroom engagement. Students love to engage with content created by faculty they know. It’s one thing to introduce a current event for discussion, but it is entirely something else to illustrate your expertise and depth of analysis to students in print.”

THE CASE 

The protagonist

Read the case

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TEACHING NOTE - Reference no. HLT10-21-23-1049TN
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