MY TEA DOES WHAT?!
Large companies should be thanking consumers for creative uses of their products
Alternative uses for everyday products you’re not really supposed to know about.
WHILE WORKING as an advertising copywriter, I was invited into a conference room for a meeting on Nestea and told to generate alternative uses for the iced-tea mix. I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever been asked to do.
An account manager in the meeting told us that one weekend while sailing, he had been badly sunburned. So he’d gone home, poured an entire jar of Nestea powdered mix into his
bathtub, filled the bath with water, and soaked in it. We all thought he’d lost it.
“That’s not what they meant by ‘Take the Nestea Plunge,’” I said.
“No, really,” he insisted. “The tannin in the tea relieves sunburn pain. If you’re ever badly sunburned, try it. You’ll thank me.”
In the years since, as a writer of how- to books, I discovered that people pen letters to companies all
the time to share alternative uses for their products, but the companies rarely advertise that information. Kraft Foods won’t tell you that Jell-O doubles as hair gel, and Procter & Gamble refuses to advertise that Bounce dryer sheets repel mosquitoes.
In that one morning of our Nestea meeting, we generated a dozen options for the product, but Nestlé decided not to advertise them. They never ballyhooed the fact that Nestea iced- tea mix doubles as an air freshener, tenderises meat and removes corns from feet, for fear of tarnishing the brand’s hallowed image. (Tarnish, by the way, can be removed easily with regular-flavoured Colgate Cavity Protection Toothpaste.)
It’s clear why corporate muckety- mucks keep some secrets under wraps. If Coca-Cola revealed that its product cleans toilets, fizzes away corrosion from car battery terminals and removes oil stains from your drive way, you might ask yourself: What ’s it doing to my stomach? (The truth is, the gastric acid in your stomach is stronger than the phosphoric acid in Coke, meaning you can safely drink the ‘ Real Thing’ and clean your toilet with it at the exact same time.)
Still, companies would be wise to listen to their customers, who may know the products even better than the inventors. At this very moment, many people have an open box of Arm & Hammer bicarbonate of soda sitting on a shelf in the refrigerator to deodorise it, even though the product was originally for baking.
Church & Dwight, the parent company of Arm & Hammer, realised years ago that people used bicarbonate of soda for more than just baking cakes. Consumers star ted suggesting they make a laundry detergent, and soon the company was marketing their bicarbonate of soda products in new ways. You can also use bicarb of soda to brush your teeth, deodorise carpet and clean crayon marks from walls.
Kimberly- Clark Corporation began marketing Kleenex tissues in 1924 as make-up removers for women. But then people raved that the
Jell-O doubles as hair gel, Nestea iced-tea mix removes corns, and Efferdent cleans toilets
tissues doubled as disposable handkerchiefs, and executives quickly grasped the fact that more people blow their noses than clean their faces, so …
In 1953, a scientist at the Rocket Chemical Company invented a water displacement formula for the space programme. Sprayed on the Atlas missile ( the first intercontinental ballistic missile developed by the US), the concoction – perfected on the 40th try and named WD-40 – protected the outer skin from rust and corrosion. When employees began sneaking the product home to spray it on their squeaky doors and stuck locks, the Rocket Chemical Company astutely decided to start marketing WD-40 to everyone.
One thing’s certain: when faced with a complex problem, we humans devise inventive solutions using whatever products we have on hand.
During World War II, US soldiers were provided with packets of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum in their ration packs, and they were said to have used the chewed‑up gum to patch jeep tyres, petrol tanks, life rafts and even parts of aeroplanes. I know someone who, upon returning home from the swamps of Vietnam, discovered that Vicks VapoRub cured his toenail fungus.
When US troops were sent to help the United Nations dist r i bute famine relief supplies in Somalia, battle- weary journalists and soldiers reportedly bartered for Huggies nappies, which they used for sponge baths in the blistering-hot desert.
Let’s face it: does it really matter how we apply these products? What difference does it make if we use Efferdent to clean our dentures, diamond jewellery or baked-on food from casserole dishes? More people have baked- on food stuck to a casserole dish than stuck to their dentures.
The folks making Efferdent should jump for joy over this news because, thanks to modern dentistry, the number of people with dentures is in the toilet (which, by the way, can be cleaned with two Efferdent tablets – let sit for 15 minutes, then brush and flush).
It all comes down to this: instead of hiding these unconventional uses for our favourite brand-name products, corporations should kiss the feet of us innovative, think-outside-the-tomato-sauce-bottle customers and publicise them.
And while they’re at it, they can also shine our shoes with ChapStick – so when they kiss our feet, they won’t get chapped lips.
Kleenex tissues were created as a make-up remover. But more people blow their noses, so ...