1. Toilet paper rolls were invented to sell Scott’s brand paper.
Packaged toilet paper, which consisted of pre-moistened sheets with aloe in a Kleenex-style box, wasn’t introduced in America until 1857. Toilet paper on a roll as we know it today was introduced in 1890 by Clarence and E Irvin Scott, whose company Scott’s is still one of the leading TP brands worldwide.
2. Father’s Day was invented as a way to sell menswear during the Depression.
The greeting card industry and the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers, whose profits were down during the Depression, conceived of Father’s Day as a promotional tool to sell cards and ties.
3. The layout of your grocery store is designed to make you buy more.
Everything about a grocery store’s layout is designed to make it seem like you’re spontaneously buying something that wasn’t on your list. To get to the milk and bread at the back of the store, you have to pass through many other aisles of goodies. Even demonstrations and sampling carts aren’t really intended to make you buy the product you taste; they’re designed to slow you down and make you see all the products that are around you as you wait for your bite.
4. Campbell’s invented green bean casserole.
This Thanksgiving tradition didn’t start in some grandmother’s recipe book. It started in the marketing department of the Campbell Soup Company in 1955 when they wanted to create a recipe that would improve lagging sales of their Cream of Mushroom soup.
5. Boxed cake mix was conceived as a way to sell molasses.
Legend has it that boxed cake mixes were invented after WWII when companies had too much flour, but actually they were developed in the 1930s when a Pittsburgh company, P. Duff and Sons, had too much molasses. The dehydrated gingerbread mix that it developed used 100 pounds of molasses, using up its entire supply.
6. Diamond engagement rings were conceived by the De Beers diamond company.
Exchanging rings with your affianced has been a tradition since ancient Rome (where the ring indicated that a woman was now owned by her future husband), but it wasn’t until the 1870s when the De Beers diamond company purchased rough mines in South Africa that they began marketing these shiny rocks for use as engagement rings.
7. The De Beers company also decided that engagement rings should cost two months’ salary.
When sales were lagging, the De Beers team decided to increase the median price of their sales by touting the now widely accepted rule that an engagement ring should cost what you make in two months.
8. Wedding registries were invented by a Chicago department store.
In 1924, the Marshall Field department store in Chicago created the first wedding registry. Before this, it was customary for only the close family of the bride and groom to offer gifts. Today, nearly 96% of couples are registered in at least one store.
9. The Guinness two-pour was just an ad to make the beer seem unique.
There’s no wrong way to pour a Guinness. Well, that’s probably not true. But the “right” way touted by many beer enthusiasts — letting the beer settle before topping it off — originated as a marketing campaign for the brand.
10. The Miss America Pageant started as a way to bring people to Atlantic City.
Contrary to popular belief, the Miss America Pageant was not an inevitable result of American meritocracy. The Businessmen’s League of Atlantic City created the event in 1921 to keep tourists coming to the boardwalk past Labor Day.
11. Women didn’t shave their armpits until Gillette told them they should.
Starting in 1915 and spurred by the increase of sleeveless and sheer-sleeved dresses coming into fashion, a marketing campaign was launched in Harper’s Bazaar by Gillette to convince women their underarm hair was both unhygienic and unfashionable. By the 1920s, these ubiquitous ads had spawned an entire industry of personal shaving products.
12. Women only started shaving their legs when manufacturers of hygiene products sought to capitalize on changing fashion trends.
When hemlines rose starting in the ’20s, companies again jumped on this new opportunity to sell grooming products by depicting leg hair on women as undesirable.
13. Oprah’s famous car giveaway was really a giant ad for General Motors.
Hailed as the “holy grail” of product placement, the Oprah Winfrey Show is known for audience giveaways that equal major screen time for corporations. But audiences and executives hit the jackpot in 2004 when Oprah gave away 276 of the brand new Pontiac G6s to her audience members. Which was, of course, designed as an ad campaign for the General Motors brand’s newest model.
14. The modern use of the word “like” came from a cigarette ad.
Prior to 1954 there were two acceptable uses of the word “like”: as a preposition or a verb. This Winston ad completely outraged grammarians, poets, and the general public with its unconventional use of the word as a conjunction. But the ads didn’t stop, and in 1961 Merriam-Webster officially amended the definition and cited Winston’s ad as the reason.
15. Negative ideas about body odor were started by a deodorant company.
The demand for deodorant was initiated by one product: Odorono (get it?). Designed as a way to keep a surgeons hands dry, Edna Murphy decided in the 1920s to market this product instead as a way to keep a woman’s underarms dry. But first, she had to convince everyone that body odor was a bad thing.
16. A formaldehyde company started the practice of chemically embalming the dead.
While the process of preserving the dead goes back to ancient Egypt, the modern (and largely Western) practice of chemical embalming as it is practiced today was promoted after World War II by two chemical manufacturers that produced formaldehyde.
17. The shame associated with herpes was created to sell herpes medication.
Until the Burroughs Wellcome company invented a drug to reduce symptoms of herpes simplex, the social stigma attached to the genital variety of this very common disease was nonexistent. In order to get people to buy their new drug, the company began an ad campaign in 1975 to create a distinction between what we now think of as “cold sores” and the socially abhorrent genital strain.
18. The modern character of Santa Claus started in a Coca-Cola ad campaign.
Prior to the 1930s, St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) was depicted more like his namesake bishop on the left — gaunt and elf-like. But when the Coca-Cola company began placing magazine ads in the Saturday Evening Post, their ad men redesigned Santa Claus into the big, jolly man in the red suit with a white beard we know today. The image wasn’t entirely original though — they based their renderings on the description of Saint Nick on the Clement C. Moore poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”