The Lipstick and the Airline – the power of observation

The Lipstick and the Airline – the power of observation

At our recent conference, my colleague Anna Eggleton presented a paper that made the case for taking a broader perspective on insight, rather than merely relying on qualitative research.

She said “the clue was in the name – insight – it’s important that we take account of everything that’s in sight.” One strand of information she went on to champion was ‘observation’, which reminded me of the story behind an innovation.


While many people in marketing know the story of how Post-it notes came to be, the story of another sticky innovation is equally engaging and a wonderful example of the powers of observation..

Wolfgang Zengerling, former Head Archivist at Henkel AG, says that the inspiration for the world’s first glue stick came from an airline flight.

The story goes that one of Henkel’s chemists, who was working in the adhesives business, was travelling to a meeting on a plane. Sitting next to him was a woman who, as they came into land, started to put on her make-up. The chemist was intrigued and watched her closely.

He was particularly fascinated by the way she applied her lipstick. He watched her twist the bottom of the tube to push the lipstick up and just over the top, letting her apply it easily to her lips. No fuss, no messy colour on her hands, and a nice, smooth, even finish.

The proverbial light bulb went off as he saw immediately how the application of glue could be made easier. How you could ensure you wouldn’t end up with glue on your hands or on any surfaces other than those you wished to stick, and how you would get a nice smooth application.

Pritt Stick, the world’s first glue stick, was launched in 1969 and is still going strong in 34 countries.

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