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Month: May 2020

The janitor who helped put a man on the moon – Purpose in action

The janitor who helped put a man on the moon – Purpose in action


In the last couple of years, much has been written about brands having a ‘purpose’ – a reason to be above and beyond making a profit. Much more is being written about it now. Many commentators are hoping that the “new normal” will present an opportunity for a more purposeful and better future.

If this is going to materialize, one thing that needs to happen is that everyone in those purpose-led organizations needs to be truly engaged and inspired by their respective purposes.

I recently read Alex Goryachev’s Fearless Innovation which reminded me of perhaps the most famous example of a purpose that united and inspired an organization.

Interestingly that purpose was ‘given’ to the organization in question.

Speaking to Congrss and The Nation, President Kennedy said on May 25, 1961; "I Believe th at this Nation should commit Itself to Achieving the Goal, Before This Decade Is Out, Of Landing a man on tne Moon and returning him Safely to Earth,"(MIX FILE)

With that short and now famous sentence Kennedy’s had effectively given NASA’s Apollo program its mission, its purpose.

It would be later that year that something would happen to demonstrate how that purpose had already permeated throughout the whole organization.

Wanting to show his continued support for the moon-shot and to try and further win over the broader American public who were still sceptical about the endeavour, Kennedy visited the NASA headquarters.

Like many presidential visits to different organization he held meeting and had presentations from the senior management, but he also took time to take a tour of the facility.

Along the way he stopped and talked to a number of employees.

He noticed a janitor who was mopping the floor and stopped to talk to him.

He asked him what he did at NASA. He might well have been expecting the man to reply that he mopped the floors, took out the trash, did odd jobs and helped fix the heating but he didn’t.

Instead he simply said, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”




From Duck to Duct – Lessons from past crises

From Duck to Duct – Lessons from past crises



Like all mothers in World War II, Vesta Stoudt worried about the safety of her children. She had two sons in the US Navy

Unlike other mothers though, she had a very particular concern based on her experience working in an ordnance factory. She was concerned that the seals on ammunition boxes were difficult to open and could lose soldiers, and her sons, vital seconds in the heat of battle.

Vesta duct

She worried away at it and came up with an idea which she then had tested at the factory. It seemed to work well, so she wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and suggested that the boxes were sealed with a waterproof fabric tape.

The letter was forwarded to the War Production Board who immediately saw the potential benefits and asked Johnson & Johnson to see what they could do. Since 1927, the Revolite division of Johnson & Johnson had made medical adhesive tapes from duck cloth and a team headed by Revolite’s Johnny Denoye and Johnson & Johnson’s Bill Gross built on this existing product and developed a new adhesive tape which could be ripped by hand, and didn’t need to be cut with scissors. It came in one colour : army green.

Their new product was made of thin cotton duck, coated in waterproof polyethylene with a layer of rubber-based adhesive bonded to one side.


It became known as ‘Duck’ tape though whether this was because it was made with cotton duck or because it was green and water resistant like a duck’s back no-one knows.

Sailors, soldiers and airmen soon released that it wasn’t just good for sealing and waterproofing ammunition casings but could be used in all sorts of other ways.  They began using it for repairing their jeeps, guns, and aircraft.  In some emergencies it was even used as a temporary means of closing wounds in field hospitals.

When the WWII ended and the soldiers came home, they brought “Duck” tape back with them, using for a variety of jobs.


The immediate post-war period saw a housing market boom and another use was identified. Builders and handy men started using it as a means to connect heating and air conditioning ducts and building merchants started stocking it. It was used it in many of the new homes that were being built.  However a choice that had been “any colour you like as long as it’s army green” wasn’t really going to work with ducts which were mainly silver and the tape’s primary colour quickly became silver, so that it would match the ducts.

Silver tape

This colour change also prompted a change of name and ‘Duck’ tape became ‘Duct’ tape.

It continues to be a sample for builders and handy-men as summed up in a quote from G. Weilarcher “One only needs two tools in life: WD-40 to make things go, and duct tape to make them stop.”

What are the implications, if any for brands?

In a world (in a recession) where things will change are there new uses for your existing products?

And what if any adaptations could you consider to make them fit for their new purpose?


Footnote: Duct tape was famously used to create a fix for the failing Apollo 13’s carbon dioxide filters.  Ed Smylie, who designed the scrubber modification, said later that he knew the problem was solvable when it was confirmed that duct tape was on board: “I felt like we were home free.  One thing a Southern boy will never say is, ‘I don’t think duct tape will fix it.’”

Lessons from past crises – putting the soap into soap operas

Lessons from past crises – putting the soap into soap operas


When the world zigs, zag is an interesting and sometime controversial strategy, but it worked for Proctor & Gamble during the depression.

Following the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression started, and many advertisers reduced or completely cut their budgets.

At which point Proctor & Gamble zagged, not only did they not cut their budgets they actually increased them. They reasoned that while many people would have to cut back their spending, there were some essentials that would always be needed, essentials like soap.

The increased budgets were spent not just on advertising but on sponsoring radio dramas. The brands sponsoring these dramas included Oxydol, Duz and Ivory, and as a consequence the serials they backed became known as ‘soap operas’.

P&G’s first foray into sponsorship actually pre-dates the Great Depression. Research had suggested that women liked to be entertained while they did housework. So, in 1927, Camay sponsored NBC’s “Radio Beauty School”.

Other soap operas followed, like “Painted Dreams” and “Ma Perkins”.

ma perkins 2

“Ma Perkins,” was sponsored by Oxydol laundry soap. It starred Virginia Payne as a widow who ran a lumberyard in the small Southern town Rushville Center while also raising her three children. The association with Oxydol became so strong that the show was often called “Oxydol’s Own Ma Perkins.”

Oxydol finally dropped its sponsorship in 1956 but “Ma Perkins” continued until Nov. 25, 1960. Payne played Ma Perkins in all 7,065 episodes over the 27 years it ran.

The increased spend worked well for P&G then and it’s one they believe will work for them now.

jon moeller

Marketing Week recently reported that CFO Jon Moeller had said that while companies in some sectors are talking about cutting media support, P&G was “doubling down”. It has increased marketing spend in categories including beauty, healthcare and baby.

“There is a big upside here in terms of reminding consumers of the benefits they have experienced on our brands and how they have served them and their families’ needs. That is why this is not the time to off air,” he said.

Nowadays maintaining or increasing marketing expenditure isn’t quite the exception to the rule it once was as various studies have shown its potential (though not guaranteed) benefits.

For example, the HBR reported that “This is not the time to cut advertising. It is well documented that brands that increase advertising during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at lower cost than during good economic times.”

Implications for brands:

Rather than just immediately cut as much marketing expenditure as possible, review your situation carefully and consider whether continued advertising might be beneficial in the longer run, whether research and development and/or investment in innovation might help you adapt or adjust for the new world.