Philips brushes off Colgate after toothbrush PR fail

Colgate is not smiling now after its free swap offer propagated across social media causing toothbrush wielding crowds to mob its stand.

Colgate stopped commuters smiling yesterday when a widely advertised PR campaign caused chaos at a busy London station.

Colgate has been running a #brushswap promotion which replaces your old electric toothbrush with a new Colgate ProClinical A1500 electric toothbrush. This retails in the UK at £169.99 (over $270).

The Colgate promotional stand has been situated in gyms, fitness centres, health clubs and leisure centres around the London commuter belt since the middle of June.

Yesterday the Colgate brush swap stand was situated in London’s Waterloo Station. This station serves the south west of England. It is London's busiest station with over 103.5 million passengers passing through it during 2012.

Colgate also planned to run the promotion at Victoria station in two weeks time. Victoria station is London’s second-busiest station with over 85 million commuters passing through the station each year.

The promotion was advertised on the popular Money Saving Expert site as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Money Saving Expert gets around 8 million readers. Unfortunately, Colgate did not calculate how many people passed through the station and just how many bargain hunters would turn up specifically for the deal.

By 7:30am, the Colgate swap stall was not giving out any new toothbrushes. At 8:40am, station staff at Waterloo requested that the stand was closed. At 9:30am, notices were put on the kiosk saying that the the deal was closed.

Commuters and people who had travelled up to London especially to take advantage of the deal caused a great deal of congestion on the busy concourse.

Colgate posted on Facebook that it had seen “overwhelming demand at the Colgate Big Electric Brush Swap in Waterloo station today. This unprecedented interest has caused significant congestion within the station and resulted in the closure of the stand for the day.”

It later followed up with a message on Twitter and post on Facebook saying, “We apologise for the inconvenience caused by today's closure of the Colgate Big Electric Brush Swap stand.

We are sorry to announce that we are unable to return to London Waterloo this week due to unprecedented demand and the risk of overcrowding and are looking at viable alternatives.”

Toothbrush rival Sonicare was quick to take advantage of Colgate's PR disaster.

It has offered up to 50 Philips Sonicare FlexCare electric toothbrushes if users tweet a picture of their old toothbrush.

Often brands do not realise the impact that social sharing has on their messages. Great bargains such as this go viral as friends share and forward messages across the network.

Twitter user @KellyinLondon captured the mood of the disappointed crowd at Waterloo tweeting “@SonicareUK can I please have a @SonicareUK smile to remove all the @ColgateUK stains?”

Some users have even joined Twitter in order to tweet photos of their electric toothbrushes.

The demand for the free toothbrushes obviously exceeded Colgate’s expectations. We all want a bargain — in fact, some of us are prepared to travel miles to get that bargain.

But as Colgate gave its users the brush-off, Philips Sonicare gave some lucky tweeters smiles.

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