Bathroom business: A word from our sponsors

Advertising is kept light and funny because of the campaign’s awkward nature.

by Holly Miller

Toilet paper: It’s good for more than wiping.

The little white sheets are prime advertising space to the University students who started White Space Media, a company aiming to put ads on rolls of bathroom tissue.

Chief Executive Officer junior Griffin Severson said he thinks he and the nine others involved with the project have tapped into a brand-new advertising market.

“We really wanted to do something that’s never been done before,” he said.

Yesterday, the student-run company distributed 1,000 toilet-paper rolls – its first campaign for Boynton Health Service.

Dave Golden, director of public health and communication for Boynton Health Service, said sometimes it’s good to take advertising risks, and putting Boynton’s message on toilet paper is just that.

“I thought these guys had a really creative, cool idea so we thought, ‘What the heck? Let’s give it a go,’ ” he said.

The six-sheet-long template, repeating throughout the roll, promotes Boynton’s Saturday clinic hours with messages like “Everything working out okay? If not – Boynton is your clinic” and “If you’re reading this, you need to wash your hands when you’re done.”

Senior Andy Potasek, in charge of operations and logistics for White Space Media, said the group is well aware of the jokes that can be made when it comes to toilet-paper advertising, but that’s why the campaign is kept light and funny.

As an advertiser, Boynton thought the best approach would be to address the awkwardness in the campaign itself, Golden said.

“We put the awkward joke on there,” he said. “I think it’s crazy to not acknowledge that you are advertising on toilet paper.”

White Space Media launched last fall as part of the Entrepreneurship in Action course, in which students get the chance to start businesses.

After nearly three months of brainstorming, Severson said the group decided on the toilet-paper promotion of positive messages and started contacting companies that might be interested in trying the new medium.

Grabbing an audience’s attention is difficult today, pushing advertisers toward this type of “guerilla” marketing, advertising and mass communication professor Ronald Faber said.

“What (these campaigns) generally are best at doing is having a brief message, much like you would see on a billboard, and gaining awareness,” he said. “It has a difficult time doing much more than that.”

Severson said the company’s next project is an anti-drunken driving campaign.

The plan is to distribute 10,000 rolls of toilet paper for that campaign at summer music festivals WE Fest and the 10,000 Lakes Festival, he said.

Messages looking to create awareness are most effective with this type of advertising, which still may eventually lose the target audience’s attention, Faber said.

“To a large degree, it’s a novelty,” he said. “As soon as people get used to it, they’re going to stop even noticing.”

Senior Ben Brose, in charge of human relations for White Space Media, said the group has done extensive research and believes the campaign will be a success.

For example, a Rice University study found bathroom media leave a 40 percent stronger impression, Brose said.

“It comes down to having a captive audience,” he added.

White Space Media distributed toilet paper to Melrose, Keeler and Grand Marc at Seven Corners apartment complexes and is tracking student reaction through an online survey, Severson said.

As accounting junior Jana Fjerkenstad grabbed her free rolls of toilet paper, she said she thought the idea is “kind of weird” and questioned whether she even looks at her toilet paper. But, she admitted, it might be effective.

“I would look at (advertising) if it was there, I guess,” she said. “I guess there’s not anything else to look at.”

Although Brose said the company will break about even on the Boynton promotion, it’s projecting a $20,000 profit from the summer campaign.

Senior Erik Krone, in charge of public relations and advertising for White Space Media, said once this advertising type proves successful, more companies might be open to it.

“It’s kind of the last frontier of advertising,” he said. “And we are kind of the pioneers.”