Large com­pa­nies should be thank­ing con­sumers for cre­ative uses of their prod­ucts

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - JOEY GREEN

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 ...

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