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Toothpaste Tablets: Children Weigh In As Some The Toughest Critics Of Dental Products


There's a new eco-friendly alternative to toothpaste. It's not a paste; it's a tablet. But even if toothpaste tablets are good for the planet, will people try them? Sally Herships and Darian Woods over at The Indicator did some informal market research, and here is what they found.

DARIAN WOODS, BYLINE: Children are notoriously difficult when it comes to dental hygiene.

SALLY HERSHIPS, BYLINE: I managed to finagle an invitation to Lerit Klemmer's 12th birthday party last Saturday in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. She is the daughter of some friends of mine, and she was there with her friends, Maya, Noah, and Deora. So I had the girls try these new toothpaste tablets I had just heard about, and not surprisingly, they were pretty tough customers.

What do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I would, like, use it all the time if it - if there was a vayarity (ph) of flavors.

HERSHIPS: A what of flavors?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: A vayarity of flavors.

HERSHIPS: A variety of flavors.


HERSHIPS: What if this toothpaste was really cheap and really good for the environment? Would you consider switching?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It would really depend on if I like it or not.

HERSHIPS: To understand why it's so difficult to get us to try new products, first you have to understand that we are creatures of habit.

JEFF GALAK: We get dressed the way we always get dressed. We brush our teeth whenever we happen to brush our teeth in our routine.

WOODS: Jeff Galak teaches marketing at Carnegie Mellon, and he says that our routines and habits, that's critical for marketers.

HERSHIPS: Jeff says for marketers or brands to try to persuade us to try a new product, that product has to do three things.

GALAK: Can it do it better? Can it do it easier? And is it cheaper?

HERSHIPS: Combined, better plus easier plus cheaper equals value. A new product has to change the way we behave in such a positive way that it's worth us changing our habits and routines. And even then, it could be hard to win over consumers. Case in point, the dishwasher.

WOODS: The dishwasher was invented in the late 1880s. And while you might think that that kind of labor-saving device would have been an immediate hit, Jeff says no.

HERSHIPS: By and large, dishes were traditionally done by housewives, and a large part of their identity at the time was how much effort they were exerting into providing for the home.

GALAK: You have to convince them that not only is this going to be as effective as their manual sitting there and scrubbing the dishes clean, but it won't undermine their value.

WOODS: And even when brands and companies have better, easier and cheaper, they still have one more item on their to-do list to check off - marketing. Remember Google Glass?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: OK, Glass, hang out with the flying club.

WOODS: Google Glass was a marketing failure, and Google realized it only after sinking millions of dollars into these specs.

HERSHIPS: Let's get back to today and toothpaste. Marketing aside, do the toothpaste tablets past the better, easier and cheaper test? OK, so when it comes to better, the American Dental Association didn't take a position. But on the environmental side, the Plastic Pollution Coalition says the paper packaging on the toothpaste tablets is definitely a win for the planet.

WOODS: And as for the cost, how much are the tablets?

HERSHIPS: Maybe a little bit more expensive. But, Darian, what is the cost of saving the planet?

WOODS: It's priceless. Darian Woods.

HERSHIPS: Sally Herships, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Darian Woods is a reporter and producer for The Indicator from Planet Money. He blends economics, journalism, and an ear for audio to tell stories that explain the global economy. He's reported on the time the world got together and solved a climate crisis, vaccine intellectual property explained through cake baking, and how Kit Kat bars reveal hidden economic forces.
Sally Herships