Market has brush with controversy over Oral-B commercial

A national leader in oral hygiene is visiting Bainbridge this week, and so far the company thinks the island is a community it can really sink its teeth into.

But the idea doesn’t seem so fresh to some islanders.

Representatives of Oral-B were present at the farmers market on Saturday, July 20. It was just one island stop for the company that is filming material on Bainbridge to promote a new Oral-B toothbrush.

The visit, however, brushed some locals the wrong way.

Enough chatter mounted over the week that the issue was raised at the council’s Wednesday meeting. Some complained the farmers market should solely promote local offerings, and not national products.

“It’s our local market, and corporations have plenty of avenues to sell their goods,” said Councilwoman Debbi Lester. “This is one of the few places that we have.”

“A challenge has been that we don’t have enough market space for all the people who want to participate,” she added. “For a corporation to come in, make a donation, and move people aside, well, we need to look at that closely.”

Oral-B made a donation to the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce and the Bainbridge Island Farmers Market in conjunction with its visit, according to a press release from the company.

Lester said that after Oral-B’s market visit she received about a dozen complaints through emails and conversations with islanders. City Manager Doug Schulze also said he received multiple complaints.

Lester raised the matter at the end of Wednesday’s council meeting. Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos chimed in and said she too was concerned after hearing about the visit.

The town square property is owned by the city and leased to the farmers market for its events.

Schulze came to the meeting prepared and was able to quote from the city’s lease agreement with the market, which stipulates that the site is only to be used for local vendors.

“Clearly having a corporation as part of the farmers market did not comply with the terms of the lease,” Schulze told the council.

He added that the lease also states that any other purpose the market wishes to use the town square for must be approved by the city.

Schulze recommended that the city take its concerns to the market’s board.

Schulze will also look into the city’s regulations, or possible actions it can take, to regulate filming on Bainbridge Island. The council will return and discuss the issue at a future meeting.

There isn’t anything the city can do if people mention the island or use it as a backdrop, Schulze said, but there may be actions the city can take to prevent the appearance that the city is represented in any filming.

But not all found the visit distasteful.

“It was great to hear people speak so nicely about our area, and just glow about the island,” said Tim O’Brien, manager of the Bainbridge Island Farmers Market.

“They went to these different communities and interacted with the public,” he added. “The farmers market was a great entry into (our) community.”

Farmers market officials did receive some criticism after the recent market concluded, however.

As a rule, the Bainbridge Island Farmers Market does now allow for-profit corporations to have a presence at its weekend events. O’Brien said he received multiple emails from concerned citizens about the company’s involvement.

“It was an appropriate response by the community that didn’t know the broader perspective, or the rationale of why they were there,” O’Brien said.

Market officials decided to make an exception to its rule for Oral-B.

“When we understood the economic impact to our community we made a one-time exception,” O’Brien explained.

“The lodging association was thrilled to have these people with their heads in their beds,” he said. “They were spending their per diems on food and taxi service. At one point during the market, a barbecue vendor came up and gave me a high five and said he just got a 250-person catering gig from the ad agency.”

O’Brien said that the opportunity to have the ad agency on the island benefited local businesses beyond the market, so the board decided a one-time waiver would be OK.

“You can see how the dollars can permeate through the community in an instance like that,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said that once he explained the board’s reasoning to islanders, things seemed to smooth over.

The city council will likely press the issue further. Lester said that she is concerned about the portrayal of the city as endorsing a product. She understands that no harm was intended.

“Things happen and mistakes are made and we’ll work through it,” Lester said. “And we’ll make sure that this is a place for our local community.”

Oral-B isn’t finished with Bainbridge just yet.

“We picked Bainbridge Island because we are coming to Manual Road,” said Jessica Singer, a spokeswoman for Oral-B. “The program is getting people to power up and switch to a powered toothbrush.”

“We have selected multiple (cities) through the country that have a Manual Road or Manual Drive,” she said. “And we are taking over that street and are encouraging people to power up.”

Oral-B is taking their Manual Road promotion across the nation to other cities with streets bearing the moniker. The company visited Erath, La. on June 29. Representatives will next travel to Stanford, Ky. on Aug. 10, then Carroll County, Va. on Aug. 17.

Bainbridge’s Manual Road is on the north side of the island, between Highway 305 and the end of Port Madison.

The company has planned a promotional event at the island’s Manual Road from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 28. There will be food, music, games and more to entertain families.

Parking for the event is at Captain Charles Wilkes Elementary School on Madison Avenue and a shuttle will transport people to the event every 20 minutes.

Islanders are encouraged to bring their manual toothbrushes to trade in for a chance to receive a brand new Oral-B Deep Sweep Power Brush.

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