• Greasy Kid Stuff: The brand that viral marketing built
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”
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.
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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