Robert R. Taylor | Softsoap creator, 77
It was Mr. Taylor who turned hand soap from a slippery lump to a dab from a pump by creating Softsoap, the first mass-marketed liquid soap pumped from a plastic bottle.
Softsoap was one of his many successful ventures, which included Obsession, a fragrance he developed with Calvin Klein and promoted in steamy ads that stimulated both sales and controversy.
But it was his famously bold gamble on Softsoap that still is the stuff of business school case studies.
In 1980, the small Minnesota company he founded, Minnetonka Corp., introduced his soap line with a $7 million ad campaign. By comparison, the yearly ad budget for Dial, the biggest soap of the day, was $8.5 million.
While the ad blitz drew consumers, "the threat of imitation was real," wrote business professors Adam M. Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff in their 1997 book Co-Opetition.
"Softsoap was hardly a patentable invention," they noted. "Pumps had been around since Archimedes."
In what the authors called a "bet-the-company move," Mr. Taylor secretly ordered 100 million of the little plastic pumps that were at the time used to dispense various lotions. That tied up a full year's production of the pumps' only manufacturers, giving Mr. Taylor time to establish his brand without rivals. In 1987, a few years after the soap giants caught up, he sold Softsoap to Colgate-Palmolive for $61 million.
- L.A. Times