Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What WD-40 Stands For

A moment of silence for John S. Barry, the "main force" behind WD-40 according to today's NYTimes obituary.

It's a classic story of how imaginative and determined marketing transformed a small, seemingly specialized product (developed by a staff of 3) into a global icon. Long before interactive branding was fashionable, Barry engaged customers with the brand by inviting them to come up with new uses for the stuff. (My favorite: a bus driver in Asia used WD-40 to remove a python that had coiled itself around the undercarriage of his bus.) Refused to patent it to avoid disclosing the ingredients. Changed the company name from "Rocket Chemical Company" to match its marquee product.

As Barry admitted, giants like 3M and DuPont made products much like WD-40. "What they don't have," he said, "is the name."

What does the name stands for? Literally, "Water displacement formulation successful in 40th attempt." But from a branding perspective, so much more.

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