To put it simply, sit on a toilet by Toto, Japan’s largest toiletmaker, and you’ll quickly realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. This is a nation where toilets feature heated seats and spray deodorizers. The seats spray warm jets of water to clean the most sensitive spots. Some even feature a water massage option for those who may be feeling, well, a bit uptight. And to top it off, a stream of warm air dries one’s posterior.
Is it all a bit much? Not to the Japanese, who love their tricked-out toilets. Now, Toto wants to toilet-train Americans—the Japanese way.
Though Toto entered the U.S. market in 1989 to sell its water-conserving toilets, it’s just now beginning to aggressively market this next generation of superloos. Within the next two months, the company plans to roll out an unprecedented national campaign of print and television advertising, including an infomercial, to enlighten Americans on toilet hygiene.
The firm, which logged more than $117 million in 2002 sales in the United States, says now may be prime time to introduce Americans to a cleaner, more intense toilet experience. It’s banking on raised sanitation awareness in the aftermath of health scares like SARS and the popularity of anything “anti-bacterial” to draw consumers to the combination bidet/toilets that are common in Japan.
“In the U.S., toilet hygiene is a process that’s now being handled in a very rudimentary or archaic way,” said Toto USA’s New York public relations manager, Lenora Campos, of Americans’ preference for plain toilet paper. “What’s needed is a process of familiarization and education. We’re talking about a cultural shift.”
Marketing experts say the company may face steep cultural barriers. Ken Gehrt, a marketing professor at San Jose State University, doesn’t think bidets will be easy to sell to the American public, given the marketing failure of pre-moistened toilet paper just a few years ago.
“It may be some strange quirk, but Americans don’t want to deal with something wet on their posteriors,” he said. Gehrt also predicts there will be resistance from the average American male. “It’s just downright un-macho.”
Bidets, which are usually stand-alone fixtures used in conjunction with toilets, originated in France and have been common in Europe since the 1700s. About two decades ago Tokyo-based Toto began importing hospital-grade bidets from the United States to sell to Japan’s aging population. It soon discovered there was a larger market for the fixtures and adapted the traditional bidet into a toilet seat attachment that fits onto existing toilet bowls.
In Japan, adoption of the fixture has been quick and steady. About 60 percent of Japanese homes now have bidet-toilets, said Campos. Outside the home, one of Toto’s popular products is a portable, hand-held bidet—imagine a gigantic Water Pik—that sells for $128.