It isn’t an overstatement to say that simple, pure Ivory soap—one of P&G’s iconic brands and very first products—changed the world. Ivory not only changed how we think of soap. It revolutionized the world of branding, marketing and advertising, with pioneering methods that are still used today.
Today, we may not think about the benefit of having a soap that floats. But in the late 19th century, when people were still bathing in murky waters of local rivers and streams, a soap that floated was pretty handy.
So Harley Procter and James Gamble, cousins and sons of the company’s founders, got creative to get the word out.
You could say the brand’s name was a sign from above. As the story goes, Harley was distracted in church one Sunday morning, trying to come up with what to call the new white soap of exceptional purity that James had invented. He’d been struggling over a name for months when, legend has it, someone started reading aloud the 45th Psalm. When they reached verse eight, Harley was inspired:
All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.
Ivory soap it would be.
The fact that it even had a brand name was cutting edge. Most soap in those days was delivered to General Stores in giant, unlabeled slabs. The owner would cut pieces off the slab for customers, price it by weight, and wrap it in plain brown paper for the trip home.
But Harley had a better idea. He persuaded his business partners to devote $11,000 to an advertising budget for one product, another first for P&G. He wrapped individual bars of Ivory in clear, consistent branding. Something boring was made beautiful, and consumer packaging was born.
In the hopes of getting some expert recommendations, Ivory was shipped to college chemistry professors and other scientists, who were asked to analyze and compare it with the finest soaps available. The reviews were glowing, including one study showing only a miniscule amount of impurities—56/100 of a percent—far less than its castile soap competitors. That spawned one of the most popular advertising slogans of its time: 99 and 44/100 Percent Pure.
There were other firsts: full-color ads for soap in magazines, commercials on the radio, sponsorship of the first TV broadcast of a baseball game, and famously, Ivory’s advertising on afternoon television dramas influenced the name Soap Opera for the genre.
For 133 years, Ivory has maintained its youthful attitude by innovating to remain a simple, effective everyday cleanser for the entire family at a great value. It may be a simple formula, but staying true to a promise has kept Ivory pure, clean and simple for seven generations.