When it was first developed in the 1950s, Play-Doh wasn’t a kids’ toy: It was made to clean wallpaper that had been dirtied by soot from home heating systems. But as cleaner heating systems were developed, the makers of that wallpaper cleaner realized it had another purpose—a toy that kids could mold things out of. In 1956, they began marketing the stuff, now called Play-Doh, to schools, and kids have been turning it into faux-cheeseburgers and smashing it into carpets in over 90 countries ever since.
This year, the classic Play-Doh compound in its yellow container got a new purple partner: Play-Doh Plus. “Through the years we’ve made some evolutions of the traditional Play-Doh compound to make it a little bit softer and to make the colors brighter,” says Gregory Lombardo, Senior Global Marketing Director for Play-Doh and other brands at Hasbro. “But this is really the first compound with a whole new formula we’ve created that was intended to be used with traditional Play-Doh.”
Play-Doh Plus began when the company was looking for a way to make the treats kids create in its Sweet Shoppe playsets look more realistic. “We were basically looking at, ‘Hey, if we made a cake out of the regular Play-Doh, could we make a softer, lighter, fluffier compound that would be more like the icing and the frosting that you would put on it?’” Lombardo says.
So Play-Doh’s in-house chemistry department set out to do just that. Rather than start from scratch, the chemists took the regular compound—“because there is a particular expertise in the production of it,” Lombardo says—and began to make tweaks to its formula (which is a carefully guarded secret). As the chemistry department rolled out small batches of tweaked compound, they were then sent to the design department, which would play with the substance and assess things like its consistency and stickiness. That feedback would go to the chemists, who continued to play with the new compound. “It was really a back and forth between our chemistry department and our design department to make sure that [the compound was] getting the type of performance it needed without the side effects we didn't want,” Lombardo says.
Developing the new compound took around 18 months. “The chemistry is very fickle,” Lombardo says. “The slightest change can have a drastic effect on the performance of the compound.” And then there was the challenge of producing the bigger batches, which also requires tweaking the formula. “It’s just like when you’re cooking for two versus cooking for a party of 50,” he says. “The taste is a little bit different when you’re making a small batch versus if you’re making a big batch, so there’s tweaks to the formula that are made when we get into production as well.” But despite the tweaked formula and process, the company uses the same machines in Play-Doh Plus’ production line.
Play-Doh Plus launched with the company’s Sweet Treats line, but is now available in multiple other lines as well. As for the name? Lombardo says the company chose Play-Doh Plus because “it allows you to ‘plus up’ your creations and do things that you’ve never been able to do before. It’s enhanced the overall Play-Doh experience and adds a whole extra layer of creativity.”