Product not used for intended purpose - biggest marketing hit?

I’ve heard stories about some people purchasing blank CDs to use as drinking coasters, and some people purchasing a certain kind of cereal because the toy whistle it contained could be used to hack phones.

I’m wondering what the biggest commercial success is for a product (or perhaps a service) that became a hit for something other than its intended purpose?

I’m not sure exactly how different the actual use has to be from the intended use* for some example to satisfy my curious mind, but it would be great for some examples to be thrown out here.

*Although one of the original purposes of Pepsi was to assist with digestion, it was always intended to be a delicious drink.

Arm and Hammer Baking Soda boxes stuck in refrigerators.

Microplane wood rasps found a place in the kitchen as great graters. Now they make some explicitly for the kitchen.

I’m not sure how big it actually is, but I gather that the use of the Wartenberg wheel as a sex toy has equaled or exceeded its original use as a medical diagnostic tool. Certainly, googling with “safe search” off, especially for pictures gives a very NSFW result.

Vaseline and K-Y Jelly


Q-Tip style cotton swabs?
Doesn’t the product packaging expressly warn against using the swabs to clean the ear canal? The exact purpose for which most people buy them?

Not exactly what the OP is looking for, but the viagra story is an interesting piece of serendipity. It was designed, synthesised and trialed as an angina medicine. It wasn’t very effective - it’s ultimate use was the result of entirely unexpected side effects in the clinical trials.

More on topic, the cosmetic company Avon have a moisturiser called ‘skin so soft’. It is heavily used by hikers and cyclists in the Scottish highlands as an insect repellent. It doesn’t work that well IME, but nothing can stand up to the plague of midges that descends on the Highlands each summer.

Avon got a huge boost to it’s Skin So Soft line when people claimed that it repelled mosquitos and other insects. It probably isn’t true but the company ran with the idea and added actual repellent to the mixture. That one has got to be up there in percentage terms.

The winner is going to be duct tape however as always. It can be used to to take care of anything whether it is a bank robbery, someone that just talks to much, or even to make a plane flyable after a horrible bear attack.

Thanks for all the responses so far, which I will be investigating shortly.

One thing, I am looking for examples where the product actually made it on to the shelf but some other use was then discovered for it. Having not yet looked in to the back story of viagra, was it ever marketed and sold as something other than a… what do you call it… “sexual stimulant”?

That would be if we say it was only intended for sealing duct work and not just as a tape. It’s still used mostly for it’s intended purpose as tape. Most of the examples given so far are not far from their intended use just their intended market niche.

I believe that the former topical anesthetic for optic and nasal surgery, cocaine, was marketed for other, less medical, uses. My understanding is that slightly more of the product was sold for these alternate purposes.


I surprised that no one has mentioned Minoxidil, which was marketed as a treatment for high blood pressure, until someone found out it would grow hair and they started selling it as Rogaine.

The motion picture camera was invented for scientific research purposes, and the Slinky was originally intended to stabilize instruments on Navy ships.

Selsun blue shampoo can be used for some skin rashes, it worked for me. I think a Dr. told me to try it.

Pie plates spawned Frisbees. The Wikipedia article yields greater detail.

Not quite what you’re looking for, but the Post-It story is close and kind of interesting. A 3M researcher was trying to devise new strong adhesives. One formulation was a spectacular failure, because the adhesive was so weak. For a while it was discarded, and then someone eventually realised that a very weak adhesive, that could be lifted off and stuck down again, was a whole new market. And so Post-It notes were born. (Insert trademark symbols as appropriate).

Don’t forget the infamous Harry Potter vibrating broomstick :smiley:

Bag Balm