What’s the deal with hotels not providing toothpaste?

In the past 16 hours, I’ve checked into not one, but (due to a wee snowstorm in Boston) two toothpastehotels.  One was mid-range, and one slightly higher-end.  Neither one had toothpaste in the bathroom.

In fact, I can’t remember checking into any hotels ever – anywhere – that had toothpaste in the bathroom.  Mouthwash, very, very occasionally.  But not toothpaste.

Lest you think this is a Seinfeld-esque meditation on “What’s the deal with hotels and toothpaste”, read on. There’s a marketing lesson here.

A few years ago, Slate had a comprehensive article on why there isn’t toothpaste in hotel rooms.  The author interviews several people in the industry, then offers several theories, none of which he really seems to like: toiletries are refilled from a big vat, and toothpaste can’t be refilled; it’s too expensive; it’s not an aspirational cosmetic; it’s a conspiracy to tip bellman who have to bring it up.

Whether it’s a conspiracy, an economic decision, or something else, what I see is an interesting marketing opportunity – at least an opportunity for analysis.

One of the things marketers do is create “awareness” around a brand.  This isn’t the kind of marketing that helps someone who is down to deciding between Toyota and Honda, this is the kind of marketing that Mercury did a few years ago with “You’ve got to put Mercury on your list.”  It’s making sure that people are aware that the brand exists, so that when it’s time to make the “shortlist” (in this case, cruise through the CVS toothpaste aisle and choose one) the brand is top of mind.

I don’t know a lot about how consumers choose to purchase products, (although I can tell you a whole lot about how IT buyers do it) but I’ve got to believe that there is a value to someone’s using a toothpaste they haven’t used before, in their likelihood to buy it in the future.  Right now I think that toiletries in hotels are funded by the hotels as an amenity.  Some of the higher-end hotels have higher-end brands like Bliss or L’Occitane.

But what if Colgate (or Crest or Aquafresh or AIM) paid for their toothpaste to go into hotels? Couldn’t that help the toothpaste companies?  Let’s say I always just buy what’s on sale; or perhaps I always buy Colgate because that is what I grew up brushing with.  Wouldn’t this be one of the only chances to have me try something different?  And couldn’t it be at least as effective per marketing $ as telling me that 9 out of 10 dentists recommend something?

It seems like that would be something worth piloting, although measuring the efficacy could be difficult.  If you picked just one city, you’d have no way to track the impact on everyone’s buying habits when they went home and bought Brand X at their local pharmacy.  Unless you gave them a coupon, which tracked their purchase.  Or chose a destination where you know where the guests are from (e.g. Disney during NJ’s school vacation time).

In any case – I can’t tell you how often I’ve forgotten toothpaste and yearned for it in my hotel room at 11pm.  I’d be a fan of the first brand to help me out.

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