Skip to content

Signal uses tech to get kids brushing


The brand team are turning brushing into an adventure, thanks to a new storytelling platform created on Facebook Messenger.

An illustration of animals standing on top of planet earth

“Time to brush your teeth!” It’s the call that gets many young children running in the opposite direction from the bathroom.

Recognising the battle that can follow, Signal has come up with a new storytelling platform to turn brushing from a chore into a game. In a first for Unilever, the brand is using chatbot technology, delivered via Facebook Messenger, to get parents and children brushing their teeth together, instilling a daily habit that will have a lasting impact on the family’s health.

It’s all part of the brand’s social mission to get people brushing day and night – a longstanding commitment that defines what Signal is about.

Every night, a new episode

So how does it work? The brand team has developed a 21-episode storyline, entitled ‘Little Brush Big Brush’, involving a cast of magical animals and a series of special missions.

Every day, families who’ve signed up, get a new episode – challenging them to brush their teeth together for two minutes.

“Chatbot technology allows every family to personalise their story,” explains Serena Mariani, Senior Global Marketing Manager. “It means they can get their nightly episode at a time of their choice.

“They can also add their names so that the story addresses them personally. And if the kids complete the two-minute toothbrushing challenge, they get a special badge which motivates them to keep going.”

The magic of psychology

The big idea behind the initiative is behaviour change – encouraging people to develop positive habits that could last a lifetime. The Signal team has explored the psychology of this process in-depth; they learned that an activity should be enjoyable, rewarding and repeated (ideally over at least 21 days) to trigger change.

“We’ve built all these aspects into Little Brush Big Brush,” says Serena. “The story and characters are enjoyable, the badges give kids a reward, and the fact that you get a new episode every evening encourages repetition.”

Right time, right place

What makes Little Brush Big Brush so innovative – and potentially so successful – is that it delivers the behaviour change message when it matters: when parents and children are around the sink in the bathroom.

“This initiative adds another dimension to the successful awareness-raising we carry out in schools,” says Serena. “This is a key part of our heritage and has worked wonders for improving communities’ oral health. Little Brush Big Brush builds on this success by getting close to families at home when they’re about to brush.”

Help with the nightly battle

The idea is to help overcome children’s resistance – many parents can’t face the nightly battle and need help at precisely this point.

In fact, this is the whole thinking behind the campaign: making the toothbrushing challenge easier for the whole family.

Artificial Intelligence even has a role to play here: the chatbot is able to adapt its language from the way the family types in questions and requests settings. That way, it’s able to reflect the kind of language that comes most naturally to each family.

Facebook makes it easy

Using Facebook Messenger is also designed to make the process easy.

“We didn’t want people to have to download an app,” explains Serena. “That takes time, as well as using up data and storage space on their phones.

“They’re already on Facebook – so we decided to meet them there. Our approach is all about making use of the natural ways in which people already behave.”

Encouraging signs

Serena and her team are delighted to see the approach is working. Little Brush Big Brush was launched in October in Indonesia and Vietnam – and 10,000 families have already signed up.

“What we’re seeing is good ‘stickiness’,” says Serena. “People are coming back for the next episode, and 200 families have already completed the full 21-day story.”

It’s clear that parents and children are loving the chance to interact with characterful animals and brush their teeth while bending their knees or staring each other out – just a couple of examples of the challenges on offer.

For the brand team, this is an initiative with longevity. The characters have the potential to be developed further: there are creative opportunities here that could serve the brand and its social mission – to get people brushing regularly – in all kinds of ways.

The work has only just begun

“The work has only just started for King Leo (the lion), Madame Green (the frog) and Master Ooh-Ooh (the monkey),” says Serena.

“We fully expect them and their fellow characters to become some of the Signal mission’s most popular allies ever. They’re a fantastic asset to our historic commitment to get people brushing day and night.”

Back to top