December 1882: P&G Advertises Ivory
Ads precisely targeted to you may be commonplace now (we’re looking at you, Instagram), but it was unheard of when Procter & Gamble ran its first Ivory soap ad in the weekly religious publication The Independent in December 1882. As the first product to be advertised nationally, it was the beginning of branding as we know it.
That first ad wasn’t a no-brainer for the company. After sales manager Harley Procter made partner in 1881, he requested more in advertising spending from executives. Despite their skepticism, they were persuaded to increase the budget from $1,500 to $11,000. Procter used the money to buy the first placement and tailored the ad copy to “ladies,” promoting the soap’s color and gentleness as the top choice for both bathing infants and doing laundry. Such claims were backed by independent research he’d commissioned; it was the earliest form of market research, a practice the company continues today.
In the decades that followed, ads got more sophisticated in both design and targeting as Procter contracted Cincinnati firms for the work. Color was introduced, and top illustrators were hired to produce art. In 1911, an ad promising $1,000 to whoever submitted the most interesting use for the soap marked an early form of promotional advertising. In 1927, the company underwrote its first radio ad for NBC, a strategy the company continued to employ with its sponsorship of “soap operas” on daytime television. As Procter & Gamble continued to invest in branding, more firms opened to support the industry, paving the way for a creative class still living and working in Cincinnati. Now, nine of the top 25 marketing, advertising, and branding firms in the city still list Procter & Gamble as a notable client.