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Month: September 2016

From wallpaper to world famous – a story of reinvention

From wallpaper to world famous – a story of reinvention

Just occasionally, a product can be given a whole new lease of life, a new target audience and a new use. It is not so much revitalised as reinvented. Kotex started life as absorbent bandages during WWI and went on to become one of the pioneers of sanitary towels. Viagra was destined to become a high-blood pressure relieving drug until an unexpected alternative use was discovered.
This tale begins in the late 1920s, when Cleo McVicker, just 21 years old, was given the task of winding down Kutol, a Cincinnati based soap company, selling off its assets before closing the company. However, Cleo managed to do such a good job that he was able to keep the company afloat – just.
kutol-cleanerCleo knew the company needed a new revenue stream and hired his brother, Noah to help him set about trying to find one.

In 1933, at a meeting with Kroger Grocery, they spotted their opportunity. Kroger were on the look-out for a wallpaper cleaner. At the time, coal was the leading way to heat one’s home. It was more efficient and cheaper than wood but tended to leave a layer of soot everywhere. This was especially difficult to clean off wallpaper as you couldn’t get it wet. Vinyl wallpaper wasn’t readily available.
Cleo promised them that Kutol could make and supply them with a wallpaper cleaner – even though at the time he didn’t know if they could deliver. Kroger ordered 15,000 cases but insisted on a $5,000 penalty (about $90,000 today) if Kutol didn’t deliver on time. This penalty was more than Kutol would have been able to pay so, in effect, Cleo was gambling with the company’s ability to fulfil the order. Luckily for the brothers and the company, Noah worked out how they could manufacture a pliable, putty-like substance that worked well as a wallpaper cleaner.

The new cleaner sold well and the company looked forward to a bright future – which it enjoyed for the next fifteen or so years.

But then their fortunes started to change.

Cleo McVicker had died in a plane crash in 1949 and Joe McVicker, Noah McVicker’s nephew had been hired to replace him. He was to face a new challenge.

After WWII, sales had begun to fall. Not only were vinyl wallpapers coming onto the market, but homes were switching from coal stoves to oil and natural gas that burned cleaner.
Kutol was in danger of becoming obsolete.

However, family came to the rescue in the form of Kay Zufall, Joe McVicker’s sister-in-law.
Kay was running a nursery school and had been looking for cheap materials that she could use with the class to make Christmas decorations. She read in a magazine that wallpaper cleaner could be used in this way, so she went out and bought some Kutol’s wallpaper cleaner to try it out.

The kids loved it and it worked a treat.

Knowing the problems that Kutol had, she called Joe and suggested that they stopped making the cleaner and started making a toy instead.

joe-mcvickersJoe knew a good idea when he heard one and got to work on a slight modification to the product’s formulation. He removed the detergent from the putty and added some almond scent and some colouring to the originally white dough.

Joe decided the new product needed a new name and was considering calling it “Kutol’s Rainbow Modeling Compound”. On hearing it, Kay told him it was awful and that she and her husband would come up with a better one.
A few days later, they came back with their suggestion – “Play-Doh”. Joe, to his credit, could see it was a better name and they went with it.

To date, 3 billion cans of Play-Doh have sold, and some 500 million cans are still sold yearly in 80 countries. The brand is in the National Toy Hall of Fame and has made Time magazine’s list of the greatest toys of all time.

Happy 125th Birthday Fazer – Kiss Kiss

Happy 125th Birthday Fazer – Kiss Kiss

Many countries have their own distinctive chocolate brand. In the UK, it’s Cadbury’s, in the US it’s Hershey’s but in Finland it is Fazer.

Founded by Karl Fazer, who had gone against his father’s wishes to train as a confectioner. He studied baking in Berlin, Paris and Saint Petersburg before opening a French-Russian confectionery café at Kluuvikatu 3 in Helsinki on 17 September 1891.

So this week is Fazer’s 125th anniversary and I thought I would mark it with a short story about the birth of their first product brand – Kiss Kiss and its slightly surprising brand icons.


Kiss Kiss dates back to 1897 and, although it wasn’t registered until 1901, it is still Finland’s oldest trademark. Kiss Kiss have light, crispy shells filled with delicious chewy toffee.



However, despite the name, the imagery associated with the brand has nothing to do with the pressing of lips. In those less liberal first days of the 20th century, nothing as racy as a man and woman actually kissing could be considered, and so the advertising and packaging featured women playing with kittens, or two kittens playing.

global-finland-kiss-kiss-kiss-kiss-postimerkkiThese soft, cuddly, cute, caramel kittens established themselves as the core brand icon and became extremely well known, so much so that in 1991 the little “Karamellikääreen” (caramel wrapper) cats appeared on a stamp celebrating the centennial of Finland’s confectionery industry, and no doubt on countless love letters.

What was Dali’s biggest contribution to popular culture?

What was Dali’s biggest contribution to popular culture?


Famous for his surrealism, La Persistencia de la Memoria (The Persistence of Memory), melting clocks and his trademark moustache, Salvador Dali also made a major contribution to confectionary branding.

He was the designer who created the iconic daisy-shaped logo for the best-selling Chupa Chups lollipops.

enricbernatChupa Chups were the idea of Enric Bernat, an entrepreneur from Catalan, who, on hearing an irate mother cursing her child for taking a sweet in and out of their mouth, “saw sweets didn’t suit their main consumers, children. They got their hands sticky and ran into trouble with their parents. So I stuck a sweet on a stick.”
A simple but brilliant solution to an often messy problem.

Unfortunately, his first choice of name didn’t go down as well. He wanted to call his lollipop “GOL”, imagining the spherical sweet was a bit like a football, and the child’s open mouth was a bit like a football net.
Realising his mistake he approached an advertising agency to come up with an alternative. They suggested ‘Chups’ a friendly variation on the Spanish verb “chupar”, meaning “to suck.”
However when the agency went on to create the first ads, they were to inspire a further change. The slogan was “Suck [a] Chups” or in Spanish “chupa Chups”, and as it became more famous, people started to use it as the brand name.

The company followed suit.

Fast forward to 1969, and while the brand is doing reasonably well, Bernat still feels more could be done with the branding and especially the design. He mentions this to a friend over coffee one day – that friend happens to be none other than Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech or more commonly Salvador Dalí.



cc-logoAccording to some sources, the painter went to work immediately, working on newspapers lying around in the café. Others don’t mention how and when he started working but all seem to agree that it took him only about an hour to come up with the daisy shape containing the wordmark. He also strongly recommended that, rather than follow conventional wisdom and have the logo on the side of the product, his new design should be placed on top of the lolly, so that it could always be viewed in its entirety.

And why did Dali take on the project?

That again is a matter of some debate, friendship or finances. Given that surrealist poet, André Breton, nicknamed the artist “Avida Dollars”—an anagram of Dalí’s name meaning “eager for dollars” it may have been the latter.

Whatever the reason, Dali’s work was extremely valuable as the identity he created has remained broadly the same since its introduction and has helped deliver over 4 billion sales!


Dali’s other contributions to the world of marketing included a humorous television advertisement for Lanvin chocolates. Filmed in 1968, he is seen biting into a piece of chocolate and exclaiming “Je suis fou du chocolat Lanvin!” (“I’m crazy about Lanvin chocolate!”). The chocolate turns him cross-eyed and his moustache swivels upwards.
In 1969, he helped to design the advertising campaign for the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest and created a large on-stage metal sculpture that stood at the Teatro Real in Madrid.

Cauliflowers for tourists – a fair exchange?

Cauliflowers for tourists – a fair exchange?


They say fair exchange is no robbery, and trading tons of cauliflowers for thousands of tourists seems to be a perfect example of the idiom. It was an exchange inspired by a visionary Breton, Alexis Gourvennec.

Gourvennec was a Breton pig farmer who became an economic and social leader and would play a major role in the regeneration of Brittany after World War II.

He led a group of Bretons who pressed for five key demands on the French administration in the late 1960s. These included establishing a modern road network between the region and Paris and the construction of a deep-water port at Roscoff

In October 1968, the French government agreed to these demands.Gourvennec

However Gourvennec wasn’t finished and when Britain announced that it was to join the (then) E.E.C. he saw the opportunity to open up a whole new export market for local cauliflowers, artichokes and other produce. Recognising that the quickest route to this new market would be across the western Channel to Plymouth, he contacted several large shipping companies to see if they would be interested in operating the route only to be met with general scepticism.

He and his group of Breton farmers didn’t give up on their dream and decided, if the established companies wouldn’t establish a service, they would launch their own. They founded what was originally called Armement Bretagne-Angleterre-Irelande, or B.A.I. for short and bought their own freighter, renaming it ‘Kerisnel’, after a small Breton village famous for its cauliflowers.

KerisnelThe facilities were pretty basic on board with two portable cabins lashed to the deck, one with bunkbeds for the drivers and a kitchen to provide meals in the other one.

On New Year’s Day in 1973, the day of the UK’s official entry into the Common Market, 3000 locals with French, British and Breton flags flying and a choir singing carols saw ‘Kerisnel’ off on its 8 hour journey to Plymouth.

One of the drivers on that original crossing was Tim Deesdale who, forty years later, recalled that, “the actual crossing was rough, [however] the crew were very pleasant. It was all very exciting. The food was actually quite good. I honestly believe that sometimes the chef would be dangling string over the side with a hook on it. We had fresh fish – he was catching it!”

That first year Brittany Ferries carried 6000 lorries but had to quickly adapt to an unexpected demand for passenger crossings – the British “export”.12145_galleryticker_full

In 1974, Kerisnel was replaced by Penn-Ar-Bed, which was made to carry both passengers and vehicles. The ongoing success and growing demand for the Plymouth-Roscoff service encouraged the company to order a larger ship, the Cornouailles. It entered service in 1977.

New routes were added and nowadays Brittany ferries represents a major transport network linking 10 ports in the UK, France, Spain and Ireland carrying nearly 2.5 million passengers, 800,000 cars and 195,000 trucks each year, some of which undoubtedly still carry cauliflowers.

And the moral is, when it comes to building brands, if you can see what others can’t then you don’t have to rely on partners, do it yourself.

Footnote: There is still a strong commitment to providing great food and outstanding service, though the chefs no longer go fishing during the crossings.