Here’s three businesses with unexpected beginnings that shot to new levels by testing new ideas:
Listerine first came to market as a surgical antiseptic but later turned into a “jack of all trades” product used for things like foot scrubbing, floor cleaning and even used as a treatment for gonorrhea.
It was also marketed directly to dentists as a way to kill germs in the mouth with little success. It wasn’t until owner Jordan Wheat Lambert and his son, Gerard decided to bring back an old Latin phrase that transformed bad breath into a medical problem.
Listerine became synonymous with mouthwash and all of it’s other marketed functions fell by the wayside. The campaign was so successful that marketers now refer to it as the “halitosis appeal” (using fear to sell product).
Remember Slinky, the springy looking thing that you would drop at the top of your stair and watch it ‘step’ down each step to the bottom? Well, it didn’t start off as a children’s toy, actually far from it.
In 1943, a naval mechanical engineer, Richard James was developing springs that could support and stabilise sensitive instruments aboard ships in rough seas. When he accidentally knocked one of the springs off the shelf, he saw the spring step in a series of arks to a stack of books, to a tabletop and to the floor.
James experimented with different types of steel wire over the coming months until he found one that was the right property of steel and tension that would ‘walk’. Betty (wife) was dubious at first before she saw neighbourhood children express their own excitement. The name “Slinky” (meaning “sleek and graceful”) was chosen.
3. Bubble Wrap
There’s something so satisfying about popping the bubbles on a sheet of Bubble Wrap. It wasn’t designed to be the protective packaging material that we know and love today, however. Bubble Wrap was initially invented as by two engineers, Al fielding and Swiss inventor Marc Chavannes in 1957 as a textured decorative wallpaper (can you imagine?).
They started out by sealing two shower curtains in such a way that it would capture air bubbles making the textured appearance for their wallpaper. As you can imagine, the wallpaper wasn’t openly accepted by the market.
Three years later, Frederick W. Bowers, a marketer who worked at Sealed Air (manufacturers of Bubble Wrap) found the perfect use for the product. At that time, IBM’s new computer was being released and Bowes thought Bubble Wrap could be used as protective packaging material for the computer. He pitched and demonstrated Bubble Wrap’s capabilities and IBM began using Bubble Wrap to protect their computers in transit. Since then, Sealed Air has grown to annual sales of $4 Billion.