Commentary

P&G Floats A Makeover For Ivory

One of the first brands to lodge itself in my sensory memory bank is also the first brand ever to be mass marketed by Procter & Gamble -- Ivory Soap, although the latter preceded the former by a good 70 years.

It's been decades since I've used it, but I can still smell it. And those square edges still set it apart as something from a day when products were stamped out by clanky apparatuses such as linotype machines. Then there was the packaging, which seemed ancient when I was a boy even though it had undergone several redesigns over the decades

P&G announced yesterday that it is giving Ivory a "modern day makeover," as our Karl Greenberg reports in his story today about the company "honing in on [consumers'] desire for simplicity/traditionalism" that a NBC Universal survey shows is all the rage among contemporary mothers. A new ad campaign out of Wieden & Kennedy, and a whole new look, is forthcoming for the venerable brand.

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"Targeting the modern mom who is incredibly complex yet driven by simplicity, the new campaign highlights the value and simplicity of Ivory, focusing on giving busy moms and families a product that delivers what they are looking for," writes Lisa McTigue Pierce in Packaging Digest. "Driving this modern makeover is the bold new look and feel of the product packaging -- a vibrant new color scheme and packaging redesign that complements the current Ivory product offerings of Lavender, Aloe and Simply Ivory bar soaps and body washes."

There are five spots -- one 30-second and four 15-second -- launching this month in selected cites. "Identity Crisis" and "Soap Dish" take viewers through "a melodic journey of bathroom decor which spotlights a number of distinctly personal soap dishes with the message, 'A Soap For Every Dish.' The 'Soap Dish' ad takes the same jazz-filled journey through the bathroom only to highlight a variation of soap sculptures, which then begs the question, 'At What Point Does Soap Stop Being Soap?'" quoth a release. The print and online campaign offer similar messages including "When Dirt Changes Its Formula So Will We," "Just Add Water" and "Cleanliness Needn't Involve Costliness."

"We don't want to do something that feels trendy or out of character for the brand," Danielle Flagg, a Wieden+Kennedy creative director tells the AP's Dan Sewell. "This iconic brand has a timeless feel, so we're just putting it with a new backdrop in the modern landscape."

This is not a brand that has been making a lot of suds on the marketing front lately. The top news-story result in a search of the Ad Age archives turns up a Jack Neff brief from 1997 about the national introduction of the Ivory Moisture Care extension with a "discover your healthy natural glow" tagline.

But in its day, Ivory was quite the innovator. The brand is "deeply entrenched in American pop culture as a sponsor of early television soap operas and the first televised major league baseball game," reports Sewell. "It even is a part of training of new marketing employees at P&G, who can learn about how Ivory reached consumers before mass media with free samples, children's coloring books and recipe booklets."

The soap sculptures alluded to in the new 'Soap Dish' ad were the product of the fertile mind of Edward L. Bernays, the so-called "father of public relations," who dreamed up the idea for a soap sculpting contest among school kids in the Twenties.

He explains the campaign's origins in this fascinating clip at the online Museum of Public Relations. It all grew out of the proposition that kids didn't like soap because it hurt when it got into their eyes and, if they detest soap when they're kids, they'll continue to hate it when they grow up. The familiar phrase "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" is another byproduct of that effort. That's because "it's 99 and 44/100% pure" as every schoolchild used to know.

Gotta love that consumer research. The first thing Bernays did when he was hired by P&G in 1923 was commission a survey of his own. It found that people had a preference for "white unperfumed soap." Guess what?

Ivory was the only white unperfumed soap on the market and when the media reported the results, Bernays' objective was met," the museum site reports.

The word "natural" has been a part of the marketing for some time, of course. In this "Ivory Girl' spot from the Eighties, a gal doesn't need much besides healthy-looking skin. Okay, "maybe a little mascara." She eats right, too!

Ivory is, of course, the "soap that floats." Next time you're looking for a way to entertain the kids, here's a little microwave trick that demonstrates Charles' Law in action.

"Charles' Law states that as the temperature of a gas increases, so does its volume. When the soap is heated, the molecules of air in the soap move quickly, causing them to move far away from each other. This causes the soap to puff up and expand to an enormous size," Steve Spangler informs us.

Now if P&G can only figure out a way for its market share to similarly puff up and expand to an enormous size. Right now, Mintel reports that Unilever's Dove holds 35.3% of the non-deodorant bar soap category market; Ivory 5.8%.

1 comment about "P&G Floats A Makeover For Ivory ".
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  1. Ellie Becker from E.R. Becker Company, Inc., October 5, 2011 at 10:58 p.m.

    As an Ivory user in childhood, I began using Ivory again as an adult when I did a new bathroom and installed an antique clawfoot tub. Then I remembered that Ivory floats -- its truly unique attribute. I'm wondering why Ivory marketers aren't focusing more on bath vs shower. A more leisurely approach to cleanliness in a fast-moving world harks back to the more relaxed time out of which the brand was born. In addition, it's convenient to see your soap floating instead of having to fish for it - a benefit to those who want their relaxation efficient. Seems to me a better positioning and a more authentic way to revive the brand while being true to its history and market differentiation.

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