In the 70s, inventors Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes were trying to make a 3D wallpaper, but accidentally created a cushioning material for packages instead. They named the product Bubble Wrap, which eventually had to be changed into a generic trademark due to its popularity.
Like Bubble Wrap, Thermos, Popsicle, and Xerox all used to be brand names, until they became generic words for the product itself. Such is the power of memorable branding. More than being an option in the market, distinct brands set the standard and create a class of their own.
Let’s take a look at how branding made unlikely products into legitimate businesses.
There’s a big business for fake snow, and it makes sense. Artificial snow is a necessary product in film and theater. It was especially popular during the early days of Hollywood, as seen in classics such as Citizen Kane. More than a business, fake snow was considered a product of artistic craftsmanship. “In It’s a Wonderful Life (1946),” the RKO Effects Department made fake snow with white-painted cornflakes, for which they won an award equivalent to today’s Academy Award for Special Effects.
But real snow seems far from bearing profit. It can even be a nuisance to streets and driveways, requiring the help of snow removal services to get them out of the way. But this didn’t stop entrepreneur Kyle Waring from selling them on his website, ShipSnowYo.com.
The snow is gathered from Boston and shipped in an insulated icebox. He started with six-pound blocks sold for $89 each, which he notes is “enough for 10 to 15 snowballs.” He later added more size varieties with the increased demand.
Waring claims he is in the business of expunging snow, and markets with the slogan, “Our nightmare is your dream!” His customers are mostly from the warmer regions who either buy the snow for a visual experience or a gag gift. When the snow melts, Waring says he might expand with other seasonal items, such as fall foliage.
Waring’s shipping venture may prove the potential of the snow business, but Bryant of The Ice Man shows you how to really get it done. While his business may not have a website like ShipSnowYo, nor an online presence, Bryant has maintained his enterprise for 27 years through referrals and other traditional marketing means. He also has a strategic location in Jacksonville, Florida, where his target market can be found.
For Floridians and other inhabitants of the sunny states, snow provides a refreshing experience, particularly for the kids. He caters to this niche market by customizing his products, with a 70-foot snow slide as his specialty.
To keep the ice intact amid the weather, Bryant processes the ice into a macerator, which softens it. The soft ice is mashed down into flakes, then it goes into a blower that spreads it in the air.
This is another product of a hard sell. Banking on the fad of novelty gifts in the late 70s, advertising executive Gary Dahl thought of creating one of his own. He picked rocks—plain, smooth stones from Mexico—and marketed them as low-maintenance pets. The ensemble is complete with a custom cardboard box with breathing holes, a nest of straw where the rock can lie, and a 32-page official training manual. Titled “The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock,” the manual was in itself a gag, filled with puns and commands you can teach a rock in jest, with “play dead” being the easiest to accomplish.
“You might say we’ve packaged a sense of humor,” Dahl said in a 1975 interview with People magazine.
The entertainment value of Dahl’s unlikely invention made him a millionaire, but also made him susceptible to lawsuits and threats from “wackos,” as he calls his harassers. But since it’s mainly a novelty, it died down after about a year.
In 2012, Rosebud Entertainment had the rights and revived the item in stores. Currently, the Pet Rock is still available on their website or on Amazon for $19.95. The website no
tes that every purchase is donated to help a real pet in need.
Magic 8 Ball
If you’re looking for practicality, the Magic 8 Ball is basically a useless purchase. But for years, it sold a million units annually. At first glance, the fascination may just be due to its clairvoyant promises, but there’s a lot more to it.
The product is actually a rebranding of a previous invention called the Syco-Seer. Made by Abe Bookman, it was marketed as a miracle home fortune teller, but the design was rather plain. The Syco-Seer was only a cylinder filled with dark liquid containing a couple of floating dice, and had psychic scribbles on its surface.
When Brunswick Billiards got in touch for a promotional toy, Bookman thought of tweaking his cylinder design into a large billiard ball. This made for a more distinct brand, remaining relevant in pop culture as of date.
Sell a Brand, Not a Product
A clear branding is the best asset your business will ever have. A memorable brand sells itself. And with diligent marketing, it can surely hold water.