In 1837, William Procter and James Gamble formed a partnership to make and sell soap and candles in Cincinnati. The business they started became household products giant Procter & Gamble Co., which was one of the earliest U.S. advertisers, placing text newspaper ads as early as 1838.
The U.S. Civil War hastened the acceptance of manufactured soaps, initially a luxury product. When men went to war, women were left to run the farms and households. Those responsibilities gave them less time for housekeeping duties, including soap making, which, in turn, led to an increase in purchases of manufactured soap.
Union soldiers became accustomed to the higher-quality manufactured soap supplied to them by P&G, and returned home with that preference after the war.
In the 1870s and '80s, soap manufacturers began to advertise to consumers on a large scale, with campaigns for brands such as Sapolio, Ivory, Pears', Lever Brothers and Kirk in newspaper ads as well as fliers and posters.
Those decades also saw a transition from the selling of goods in bulk to the selling of branded package goods. In 1882, P&G ran its first consumer ad; five years later, the company introduced its "Ivory Babies" campaign.
To prove its purity, P&G tested its Ivory bar. Those tests showed Ivory contained only 0.56% impurities, and that result gave birth to the famous tagline "99 and 44/100% pure?It floats." P&G promoted "floating" Ivory to consumers with the then-unheard-of budget of $11,000
In the 1890s, British-made Pears' Soap ran a similar soft-sell campaign featuring cute babies and the tagline "Good morning, have you used Pears' soap?" Other ads for Pears' featured an infant reaching for a bar of Pears' soap with the headline, "He won't be happy till he gets it" and a mother asking her child, "How do you spell soap, my dear?" The child answered, "Why, Ma, P-E-A-R-S, of course."
Improved printing technologies introduced in the 1890s spurred the use of trademarks and portraits in decorative packaging for soaps. Among the new products that took advantage of those technologies was John H. Woodbury's facial soap.
Soap and sex appeal
As the new century began, soap advertising, led by P&G, moved into new national magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Harper's Monthly and Ladies' Home Journal. Ad campaigns from the early 1900s included the revolutionary Woodbury's facial soap campaign with the slogan, "The skin you love to touch." Written by Helen Lansdowne Resor, a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson Co., the ad featured an attractive couple and copy that implied that the soap's benefits included increased sex appeal.
With the advent of World War I advertising, themes shifted to the patriotic, focusing on companies' contributions to the war effort. P&G's "Ivory soap follows the flag" told readers the product was "in fact, the very joy of living to our boys when they are relieved from the front lines for rest, recreation, clean clothes and a bath."
At the same time, Lever Brothers, a company founded in Britain in 1887, entered the U.S. market with Lux soap. Colgate-Palmolive promoted its Cashmere Bouquet and Palmolive brands.
The Roaring Twenties brought a new affluence to a larger segment of the population, a trend that was accompanied by an underlying anxiety about social acceptance. In the mid-1920s, soap manufacturers and their agencies started a national hygiene campaign to encourage frequent bathing. JWT, which handled Woodbury's and Lux, pioneered a psychological appeal to cleanliness. Lever Brothers refocused its Lifebuoy's positioning, claiming it would protect wearers from "B.O."
On radio, soap products were initially promoted in etiquette and beauty chats, but marketers began to move toward sponsorship of individual entertainment programs, including one featuring George, the singing Lava Soap Man, who was the first P&G-sponsored entertainer and developed by Compton Advertising. In the 1940s, Biow Co. used the percussive masculinity of Sergei Prokofiev's Classical Symphony to spell out L-A-V-A.
A full switchover to entertainment radio shows accelerated in the early 1930s with the advent of what came to be known as the "soap opera." P&G bought the "O'Neills" for Ivory and "Forever Young" for newcomer Camay. By the end of the decade, soap commercials were also appearing on TV.
The outbreak of World War II slowed the growth of TV, but by the late 1940s the medium's popularity was surging. The late 1940s also saw Dial Corp.'s introduction of Dial, the first true deodorant soap that prevented odors. It was introduced via ads from Foote, Cone & Belding with the tagline "Round the clock protection." By 1953, Dial was among the top-selling bars in the U.S., and FCB coined the tagline "Aren't you glad you use Dial? Don't you wish everyone did?"
P&G launched its first TV soap opera, "The First Hundred Years," in 1950, but the program was short-lived. Subsequent P&G shows were more enduring, including "Search for Tomorrow" and "The Guiding Light," which started on radio in 1937 and was till running more than 60 years later.
By the 1960s, P&G and Lever Brothers were competing head to head for leadership in the category. P&G's roster listed nine agencies, including Compton Advertising, which handled Ivory soap, and Leo Burnett Co., which had Camay. Doyle Dane Bernbach handled Lever Brothers.
In 1971, Colgate-Palmolive launched Irish Spring via Young & Rubicam, with a quirky ad campaign that played up the brand's "Irishness." The commercials featured young men playing sports. The campaign used the tagline "Clean as a whistle."
The biggest new-product breakthrough in the category, however, came in 1980 when Minnetonka Inc. introduced its Softsoap liquid hand soap. The brand, which was purchased by Colgate-Palmolive in 1988, spurred Colgate-Palmolive's rivals to offer liquid versions of their more popular brands.
In the early 1990s, Lever edged out rival P&G for the No. 1 spot with its introduction of Lever 2000. But P&G regained leadership in with its 1993 introduction of the Oil of Olay bath bar.
The 1990s also saw an increase in niche brands, such as fragrance-free and sensitive-skin soaps. Advertising tended to focus on soap's secondary qualities, such as killing germs, moisturizing and deodorizing. Many cosmetic and bath lines, such as Elizabeth Arden, Revlon, Vitabath and Neutrogena, also entered the soap market with higher-price specialty soaps.
In 2000, soap marketers were faced with the reality of being crowded out of TV by advertisers with bigger budgets?marketers of autos, drugs, telecommunications and financial services.
In early 2001, P&G, which spent more than $1 billion on marketing annually, announced that it was establishing a stand-alone marketing management company to coordinate complex and increasingly international marketing campaigns and to get new products to market more quickly.
Unilever also cut both print and TV spending, while exploring other marketing avenues, such as partnering with Microsoft Corp. to test new
interactive ads for its Dove brand on the Internet. Dial Corp. continued to struggle, cutting brands and product lines to reverse declines but promising to consolidate its marketing behind core brands. Colgate-Palmolive also focused on its top brands, including a $100 million relaunch of revamped Softsoap via Y&R