Marketing Lessons From A Public Bathroom

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When was the last time you sh*t your pants? 

It was 2007 and I was on the way to the mall with my dad.

11-year-old me had just eaten a colossal sandwich from our local sub spot and I was ready to go shopping for my first day of school outfit.

15 minutes into our journey, I felt a sudden rumble that shook my insides harder than thunder in a summer storm. It was like Keith Moon was drumming a solo inside my stomach that had the crowd, aka my intestines, going nuts.

As the dramatic solo subsided I began to notice a stronger, more serious feeling arise–one that was beyond my control.

When I decided to tell my dad about the episode I was experiencing, we were still on the highway, a solid chunk of miles away from our destination. If you’re familiar with Michigan or really any midwest town, the land between each one is usually filled with cornfields and cows—thus, finding a gas station or rest stop here is rare. 

This was also before the smartphone movement that allowed us to tap into Google maps at the touch of a finger, so the whole “find the closest bathroom” idea was limited to road signs and our knowledge of the area.

As this presence inside of me began to moan from my stomach, I could tell that this was turning itself into a digestive nightmare that was about to come to a head.

My dad, gripping the steering wheel, kicked the accelerator and picked up speed, “there are no gas stations on the map for another 4 miles, you have to hold it!”

In the passenger seat, I tried to distract myself with positive thoughts—like school was starting again and I was going to dice up my friends on the basketball court at recess—but the more I did so, the more my body turned on me.

At this point, I was in full panic mode—I had completely lost confidence in my ability to do as my dad had instructed and was scoping out the best clump of trees I could find on the side of the highway.

With a deep breath, I howled “PULL OVER!” like you hear in the old Cops shows—except in this episode, I was about to commit a war crime against the tree of some midwest farmer’s property line.

My dad, irritated, threw the wheel sideways sending the car over the rumble strips to a screeching halt. Swinging the door open full force, I sprinted for my life.

This wasn’t like one of those sprints you do in sports practice, this was a, “I’m being chased by a demon from hell and I will do anything to get away” sprint—I probably could have qualified for Tokyo 2021 200m if you timed it.

I jumped into the brush and the next 5 minutes were something I will never share in written words, but let’s just say, it was NSFW. 

When it was over, I sauntered toward the car, defeated and downtrodden. It was as if I lost my soul in those woods and it was never coming back. 

I vowed to never eat from that food court ever again. 

When I think back to that experience, it was really sh***y—pun intended. So sh***y in fact, that it took me a couple of years to really get over the whole thing. I even spent a year not going to that mall for that exact reason.

The fact that we were stuck in what felt like the middle of nowhere with no bathrooms kept me frustrated for a long time.

How could I not find a single bathroom anywhere?

I can’t be the only person that’s experienced this, right?

Years later (15 to be exact), I moved to New York City—the worst place for someone who’s got lingering poop PTSD. I won’t lie to you when I say I was worried. That was until my new coworker showed me an app that changed my life.

It’s called FLUSH. 

What is FLUSH?


FLUSH was developed by Jake Ruston in 2015, with the goal of helping people locate public restrooms and bathrooms in their area. The young developer came up with the idea while working on another app that tracked the London Tube system.

“A lot of people were asking me to include details of toilet facilities for London, but I decided to go bigger and design something for the whole world.” – Ruston

The idea was brilliantly simple—create an open-source database where people anywhere in the world could enter public restrooms and bathroom locations, rank and rate them, and share with others.

Upon launch, the app did over 100,000 downloads resulting in over 100,000+ public restroom entries across the world. From the streets of London, all the way to NYC and LA, you now could pull up your phone and find a clean, cared-for bathroom that was ready for you to use.

People raved about it, citing it as one of the most helpful apps to have when traveling abroad or going on a road trip.

“There have been times when I’ve been in other countries such as Germany and I’ve needed to find a toilet, which has been difficult to locate due to obvious language barriers and unfamiliarity with the area.” – Ruston

Not only is Flush helpful for frequent travelers, it’s become a resource for those who suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and Crohn’s disease.

Since its launch, the app has only grown, flexing over 250,000 public restrooms currently across the world. 

It provides directions and details about each restroom such as ADA compliance, fees for usage, if keys are required, even the amount of stalls. Plus, it allows users the ability to give real-time feedback on each restroom experience so you know exactly what you’re getting into upon arrival.

So what makes FLUSH so special?

It’s simple. 

Flush is not a fancy phone app that does a million and one things. It does one thing really damn well—finds bathrooms. It takes an everyday problem that we all experience and provides a direct solution to that problem without complicating it.

That’s the entire backbone of problem branding and marketing—providing simple solutions to the big problems.

People aren’t looking for the best or most renowned bathroom in the world, they want their problem solved with any bathroom. They want to know that they can rely on a system or service to alleviate an issue and make their lives easier.

Brands like FLUSH understand this and bring those types of solutions to the table. They think outside the box and focus on the critical aspects of delivering an answer that is effective, inclusive, and repeatable. 

And I’d confidently tell you those three components are critical to running a problem-solving brand. 

  • Problem brands are effective—they provide solutions that alleviate all the issues the problem presents. They address every aspect of the problem, leaving little to no room for the problem to peek it’s head again.
  • Problem brands are inclusive—they look outside of their primary audience to identify the outliers and others who can benefit from the solution. They are constantly looking for ways to bring more people with a specific problem into the fold with their solution. 
  • Problem brands are repeatable—their solutions can be applied to a variety of scenarios and yield the same results. They bring true value to the table by having a system and structure in place that can be repeated time and time again leading to a clear and concise solution.

I know it sounds weird applying these characteristics to an app that helps you relieve yourself, but when you think about it, they hit all three aspects on the head perfectly.

Sure, FLUSH may not be as revolutionary as say toilet paper—a tried and true problem-solving product—but it definitely has secured itself a permanent space in the world of problem branding and marketing. 

Do yourself a favor, hop over to the app store (Apple or Android) and download the FLUSH app. Next time you’re out and about in the city or on a trip, open it up and check out what’s around you. 

If this whole “problem branding” thing is new to you, we here at Special Sauce love solving problems and helping brands grow! 

We do so by dropping an awesome little email every week called The Recipe, straight to your inbox, that’s filled with stories like this and helpful marketing, website, brand, and product tips. 

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Until next time…

Jake Hackman