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A Discussion on Marketing Campaigns & Tipping Points: How J&J Toothpaste Became Wildly Successful 

In this article, Margaret Gurowitz, the Chief Historian of Johnson & Johnson, describes how Johnson & Johnson inspired people to brush their teeth through the product, Zonweiss. Reading the story of how Zonweiss became popular, I immediately made several connections between the product’s successful marketing campaign and the concept of tipping points.

Zonweiss was a cream that was sold with a small spoon to help people more hygienically transfer cream from its container to the toothbrush, inventing the containers we use now for toothpaste, a tube. The cream was launched in 1887 and was marketed as being more gentle on teeth than powders, which were used back then for oral hygiene.

To give some background, by the launch of Zonweiss, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) was already famous as a cutting edge healthcare innovator from creating widely used sterile surgical materials like sutures and gauze.

However, although Zonweiss was a good concept in theory, Gurowitz describes how it was difficult to get people to get into the habit of using Zonweiss and brushing their teeth. The public was also unknowledgeable about how to maintain good oral hygiene. In 1900, only 7% of the US population regularly brushed their teeth. Today, that statistic has increased to 98%. From these statistics, we can infer how Zonweiss pushed past the tipping point to become wildly successful. While the product initially struggled around 7%, a small fraction of the population as users, J&Js marketing tactics likely pushed the toothpaste past its tipping point. Seeing how toothpaste is still wildly popular, even if toothpaste brands struggle, as long as the fraction of users is above the tipping point, then the product will remain relevant and popular without converging to 0. Therefore, 98% could potentially be z” as this would be a stable point if 98% is still the fraction of users now, meaning any fraction of users nearby above or below will converge to about 98% of users.

In class we learned about effective strategies to market products that have tipping points. As discussed in lecture, it was difficult for other types of keyboards to become popular in the market, even though they were more efficient compared to the QWERTY keyboard. In other words, it was difficult for other types of keyboards to get past the tipping point and become competitive. Similarly, toothpaste was a competitor to oral hygiene powders; however, unlike the QWERTY keyboard, it was trying to break into a non-existing market. Thus, one of the ways discussed to get users to start using the product and push past the tipping point is to start and offer initial users the product for free or give it out at a discount. Another way to push past the tipping point is to launch the product with a big ad campaign and create a buzz for the product, which is exactly what J&J did. The company did this by raising awareness for the public to better take care of their teeth by giving our free information, such as pamphlets about pharmacies and where to go to buy personal care products. This campaign set up the platform on which Zonweiss would thrive on, and Gurowitz states how the effects of this campaign can still be seen today.

In conclusion, this example of the boom of toothpaste, specifically Zonweiss invented by Johnson & Johnson, shows how information cascades and pushing past the tipping point have the ability to influence the behaviors of a population on a massive scale.


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November 2018