Vintage Advertising: Shock Value

The first successful female ad writer broke ground by writing a tagline that was quite racy for 1911.

Woodbury Soap Ad

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Until 1911, soap ads usually featured a picture of — what else? — soap. Ivory soap, for example, had become the most popular brand, with its slogan, “Ninety-nine and 44/100 Percent Pure.” But Woodbury shifted the focus from the product to its possibilities; in this case, the amorous attention of a gentleman. With its then-racy tagline, “A Skin You Love to Touch,” the ads are regarded as the first to use sex to sell a product. At the time, many found the ad shocking.

The advertisement was the creation of Helen Lansdowne Resor, whom some regard as the first successful female ad writer. Resor would later become a leading figure at the J. Walter Thompson agency, hiring and promoting women to creative roles in the agency at a time when women were usually consigned to clerical work.

Woodbury Soap Ad
Woodbury’s Facial Soap ad published on January 2, 1915. (Click to Enlarge)

Her Woodbury’s Soap campaign had the desired effect. In eight years, sales rose 1,000 percent. Woodbury would stick with the slogan for over 30 years.

This article is featured in the January/February 2022 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. This really is a beautiful ad! Ms. Resor was smart to acknowledge the artist who painted it, and make it available in color with the coupon in the right-hand corner. I’d love to see that. I’d assume it would have been without the ad copy, but probably not without the bar of soap, lest we forget it’s Woodbury’s Facial Soap.


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