Ivory Soap

Published on .

In 1878, James Norris Gamble, son of a co-founder of Procter & Gamble Co., purchased a white soap formula to develop a product to compete with high-quality imported castile soaps popular in the U.S. at the time. The product was first called simply "White Soap."

Early in 1879, a workman accidentally left his soap-mixing machine running during lunch hour, causing more air to be mixed into a batch of the soap. A supervisor decided no harm was done, and the soap was shipped. Weeks later, P&G began getting orders for more of the "floating soap."

First national brand

Another founder's son, Harley T. Procter, made advertising work for the distinctive white soap. Seeking a better name than the generic White Soap, Mr. Procter was inspired by a Bible passage, Psalms 45:8, and in July 1879, the product was trademarked "Ivory." Ivory became the company's first national brand.

P&G allocated $11,000 to advertise Ivory nationally; the first Ivory ad appeared in a religious weekly, the Independent, in December 1882. It was unusual in that it targeted consumers at a time when most ads targeted dealers or retailers. Copy read, "The Ivory is a laundry soap, with all the fine qualities of a choice toilet soap and it is 99 and 44-100% pure."

The purity claim resulted from an independent chemical analysis Mr. Procter commissioned, and he worked that phrase both into Ivory advertising and packaging. He also recognized that the floating quality of Ivory would let consumers easily find a bar of the soap in their wash water, and chose the new national magazines—such as Good Housekeeping, Harper's Monthly and Ladies' Home Journal—as the best advertising vehicles for Ivory.

P&G sought consumer feedback from the outset, and the brand's first ad in 1882 invited readers to share their experiences with new uses for the product.

P&G was also an early adopter of other premiums and promotions. Ivory's first premium offer was a miniature facsimile of a cake of Ivory soap that could be attached to a watch chain.

Mr. Procter handled Ivory advertising until 1900, when the company contracted with Procter & Collier Co., run by printer Allen C. Collier, who handled advertising as a sideline. The Ivory baby became the brand's icon, with new illustrations offering a significant improvement over the original image.

Increasing ad sophistication

Over time, Ivory ads became increasingly sophisticated color productions, with illustrations from some of the best-known illustrators of the time. By 1897, Ivory's ad budget had skyrocketed to $300,000.

During the 20th century, P&G extended the Ivory brand with Ivory Flakes, later dubbed Ivory Snow. Ivory's longtime advertising agency, Blackman Co., was reorganized in 1937 as Compton Advertising and moved the brand into radio. In the 1950s, the company extended the brand into a light-duty dishwashing detergent as well, then into liquid hand soaps in the 1980s and moisturizing body washes in 1996 with the introduction of Ivory Moisture Care.

Compton Advertising remained the principal agency for Ivory until 1982, when it was taken over by Saatchi & Saatchi. The Compton name ultimately disappeared, but Ivory remained with its successor until P&G switched responsibility for Ivory products to Grey Advertising, later Grey Global Group, in 1997, as sales of the former flagship brand continued to slip throughout the 1990s and into the new century.

Most Popular
In this article: