Home > campaign analysis, experimental marketing, social network marketing > • Greasy Kid Stuff: The brand that viral marketing built

• Greasy Kid Stuff: The brand that viral marketing built

Instructions: Use lots -- buy more

Instructions: Use lots -- buy more

Long before there was an Internet, there was viral marketing. Admittedly, it was rare. On the other hand, it actually worked.

Take “That greasy kid stuff,” for instance.

In 1962, Bristol-Myers was riding high on a campaign for its Vitalis brand of hair dressing. Unlike Brylcreem, which had reigned supreme since the Roaring Twenties, Vitalis contained no grease and left the hair looking more like hair and less like the aftermath of an oil change. The ads generally consisted of one athlete looking in disgust at another athlete’s hair and asking, “You still using that greasy kid stuff?”

For reasons known only to the gods of pop culture, the tag line struck a chord with the public and a new catch phrase was born. Bill Cosby incorporated it into his stand-up routine to launch his debut album, Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow – Right! And honky-tonk song-writer Cy Coben wrote a tune called “Greasy Kid Stuff,” giving Janie Grant her only Top 40 hit.

Cleopatra sailing down the Nile with Mark
Was huggin’ and kissin’, was as happy as a lark
But suddenly she ran her fingers through his hair
Stopped and said, “Well, I declare….
Are you still using that greasy kid stuff?
That icky sticky ooey gooey greasy kid stuff”

Cleopatra sailing down the Nile with Mark
Was huggin’ and kissin’, was as happy as a lark
But suddenly she ran her fingers through his hair
Stopped and said, “Well, I declare….
Are you still using that greasy kid stuff?
That icky sticky ooey gooey greasy kid stuff”

But the real winners were Larry Frohman and William (Bill) Cole. Frohman was a senior in advertising at Babson Institute and realized that not only were the commercials publicising Vitalis, they were also publicising Greasy Kid Stuff. The only problem being that there was no such product.

It was up to Frohman and Cole (a pre-med student) to invent it.

They each pitched in $50 for the ingredients, and mixed up a concoction consisting of lanolin, mineral oil, and a few spices for scent. After obtaining FDA approval, the two young men put their product on the market. 

Word spread. An appropriately-named Miami station, WFUN, plugged it, followed by none other than Johnny Carson. 

Frohman and Cole’s company, “Kid Stuff Products, Inc.,” sold out of their first 130,000 bottles in days, and within weeks it had outlets in several major cities in the States, and even Canada.

For a short period of time, Greasy Kid Stuff became one of the most popular hair products around. Hell, I even had a bottle. (Its instructions encouraged the application of copious amounts in order to speed up the process of buying a new bottle.)

As for Bristol-Myers, they not only found the incident amusing, but called in Frohman to discuss career opportunities — an offer Frohman apparently declined, probably to his later regret.

Of course, the ride couldn’t last for long, and as quickly as it had been born, Greasy Kid Stuff died. By the next year the product, and the company, were pretty well defunct.

Still, there are lessons to be learned from all this.

The first is that despite the gloomy prognostications of certain advertising commentators and consultants, viral marketing can occasionally work. While Bristol-Myers relied on traditional, and costly advertising methods to promote Vitalis, Kid Stuff Products, Inc. used the power of social marketing to launch and build its Greasy Kid Stuff at almost no cost.

The second is that Vitalis has been around for over 70 years. Greasy Kid Stuff lasted a few months.


 Sources:

 

Time staff writer. “What’s your stuff.” Time. 28, 1962 December.

Hoffman, Frank, and William Bailey. Fashion & Merchandising Fads. Haworth Press, 1994.

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  1. May 12, 2010 at 8:45 am | #1

    Sad that Larry Frohman died many years ago. He was a gentle kind soul. However to set the record straight. As a Freshman at Emory GKS was my own original idea. We were bought out 50% by a Chicago group of wonderful attorney’s, Jack and Lenord Ring. Over the next 18 months we took in over 22 million dollars world wide.
    If you desire you may reach me at 404-231-3441 in Atlanta?
    The former Chief of oral Medicne and Surgery at St. Jude Children’s Reseach Hospital (retired).
    Owning many patents you may find some or many of my products, patents (some consumer) some scientic quite amazing.
    Thank you for you well meant story
    My kindest regards,
    Dr. Bill Cole

  2. WheezerTheGeezer
    January 12, 2011 at 10:32 am | #2

    I had a bottle of this! I bought it as a lark after hearing it advertised on the Dick Biondi show when he was on WLS in the early 1960s.
    Reminds me of a limerick I saw in Playboy magazine at the time:

    There once was a whore of King Bluff
    Who said, “I have had quite enough…”
    “of men who are forty and fifty and sixty…”
    “what I need is some greasy kid’s stuff!”

  3. Gary Chomiak
    March 26, 2012 at 1:43 am | #3

    According to my relatives, my uncle, Chester Kulesa came up with the tag line for the commercial. That’s my one claim to fame I have for a famous relative.

    • Christopher Simpson
      May 3, 2012 at 11:08 pm | #4

      As far as I’m concerned, that’s a pretty good claim to fame. It was a great tag line. (And sorry for the delay. For some reason I didn’t get a notification that there was a comment.)

      • May 4, 2012 at 1:43 am | #5

        I guess my uncle was one of the original ‘Mad Men’.

  4. March 31, 2012 at 10:51 pm | #6

    i think it about all the linking one can do with your RSS feed. At least thats what I am doing and getting lots of success

  5. Jim
    December 5, 2012 at 7:22 am | #7

    Here’s a bit of worthless trivia about Greasy Kid Stuff. For reasons I never knew, they sponsored a kids baseball team in Southeast Little League in Chicago. I know because I was the teams catcher, my Dad was the manager and my Uncle a Coach. We had Greasy Kid Stuff jerseys and before each game they played the Greasy Kid Stuff jingle. I also remember what I thought was one of the founders at our house. I think a college student?

  6. Louise Trezza
    April 2, 2013 at 8:39 pm | #8

    That was not Janie Grant’s only top 40 hit. What about Triangle?

  7. Tony Sclafani
    December 28, 2013 at 4:19 am | #9

    “That Greasy Kid Stuff” was not a Top 40 hit for Janie Grant. That honor goes to “Triangle,” her self-penned first hit, which got to #29, starting its chart run 3/27/61. Next up was “Romeo,” which hit #75 in August of that year, and finally came “That Greasy Kid Stuff” (its full title) which topped out at #74 in June, 1962. Probably too eccentric for the masses or they dismissed it as pseudo-advertisement.*

    Since she never made the Bubbling Under chart, that’s all she wrote when it comes to Grant’s hits. All info courtesy of the Top Pop Singles book, compiled from Billboard charts.

    Grant was sort of an unheralded forerunner to the singer-songwriter movement, since she composed as well as sang — hence me wanting to set the record straight about her. Others of her ilk included Gale Garnett (“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”) and Shelby Flint (“Angel on My Shoulder”), two other half-forgotten songstresses from around the same era. All are worth checking out.

    *Funny sidenote about this song. The songwriter was Jewish and anglicized his name while Grant was Italian and had done the same. So middle America was unwittingly served up an ethnic dish with this one. They weren’t biting, which is sad to say, because it’s a fun tune with a clever arrangement and genuinely funny lead vocal.

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