WHAT’S THE ROI ON CREATIVITY?

Kutol was a Cincinnati based soap company.
In 1933 they were in deep trouble and going under.
A young accountant, Cleo McVicker, was trying to drum up orders.
He asked Krogers, a chain of grocery stores, what they needed.
They said they needed wallpaper-cleaning putty.
Without thinking, McVicker said his company made the best wallpaper-cleaning putty.
And he signed a contract to supply 15,000 cases.
Then he had to find out what wallpaper-cleaning putty was, and how to make it.
In those days all homes were heated by coal fires.
This left a residue of soot on the wallpaper.
You couldn’t rub it off because this would just smear it all over.


You couldn’t wash the wallpaper, because the water would soak through, liquefy the paste, and the wallpaper would fall off the wall.
So you needed a semi-adhesive putty you could dab on the wall that would lift the soot off.
Cleo McVicker’s brother, Noah, found a recipe for this in a magazine.
The putty worked, and everything was fine for a dozen years.
Then people began putting in central heating, fired by gas or oil.
This obviously didn’t leave any coal-dust residue.
Also vinyl wallpaper had recently been invented.
This was waterproof and could be washed with soap and water.
So sales of wallpaper-cleaning putty dried up.
In 1949 Cleo McVicker’s nephew Joe took over.
Joe’s sister-in-law, Kay Zufall, was a nursery school teacher.
She read an article about making Xmas decorations from putty.
So she bought a couple of cases for her class.
The kids loved it so much she told Joe he should sell his wallpaper-cleaning putty as modelling clay for kids, instead.
So Joe removed the detergent and added colours.
And in 1956 he called it “Kutol’s Rainbow Modelling Compound”.
Kay said she thought that was a lousy name.
She said she could come up with a better one herself.
She said he should call it “Play-Doh”.
And Joe sold Play-Doh to all the schools in Cincinnati.
Then he did something really smart.
He had no marketing or advertising budget, so he created one.
The biggest children’s programme across America at that time was Captain Kangaroo.
Joe called up the man who ran it and suggested a deal.
He couldn’t afford to pay for any advertising, but if they’d feature Play-Doh on their show, he’d give them 2% of any increase in sales.
An early form of payment-by-results.
And almost overnight, Play-Doh became a national hit, all across the USA.
In the years since, Play-Doh has sold over 2 BILLION cans.
Even now, every year it sells 100 million cans in 75 countries.
The original wallpaper-cleaning putty sold for 34 cents a can.
Marketed as Play-Doh, the virtually identical product sells for $1.50 a can.
That’s an extra $1.16 a can (a 300% increase) that can’t be attributed to anything but marketing and advertising.

How’s that for an ROI on creative thinking?

  • michael rowland

    Aaah repurposing. A school teacher said of my woodwork ‘when all else fails, it can always be a toy’.

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