If you or someone in your family baked a pie or cake using Crisco this holiday season, you were using a product that has been a staple of the American kitchen for nearly a century. But according to reporter Sarah Gardner on NPR's "Marketplace," the story of Crisco is really a story of the development of contemporary marketing.

Back in 1911, Procter & Gamble wanted to corner the market on cottonseed oil because it was a key ingredient in Ivory Soap. Researchers at the company came up with the substance we now call Crisco. Problem was, they didn't know exactly how consumers might use it. But then someone realized that Crisco had many of the same properties as lard, which housewives used to grease pans.

"P&G hawked its new product as a 'scientific discovery," Gardner explains. "The company sent free samples to every grocer in America. They held Crisco teas--an early version of the focus group. P&G even niche-marketed the product as kosher to the Jewish community." (To read Marketplace's report, click here.)

Most important, the company provided consumers with recipes stipulating the use of Crisco. The effort to educate and mentor customers--to interact with them in a more intimate and profound way than by simply completing a sale--is something marketers still talk about and still try to accomplish.

In that way, Crisco (forgive me for the following sentence) greased the rails for the development of contemporary marketing.