It seems to me that, amidst all the headline-grabbing stuff going on both in this country and around the world, there are other activities that kinda slip under the “newsworthy” radar even if they are of interest to us ordinary folks. Among these are reports that Proctor & Gamble (P&G), the world’s largest consumer-products company, is in the process of reducing its number of products to streamline operations and increase profitability.
Among those being considered for the product graveyard is the Ivory brand. Yep, that “99 44/100 percent pure” white floating soap which made its debut in 1879 is reportedly “on the bubble” for possible extinction. (Sorry ‘bout the bad pun but just couldn’t resist.)
My personal association with Ivory soap goes back as long as I can remember. I recall how, when I was just a youngster, we had two types of soap in our home. One was a brown strong-smelling bar used for laundry and other household-type cleaning. I think it was called “Fels Naphtha Soap” but my memory might not be that accurate. Perhaps some of you more mature readers might remember such a soap. Anyway, the other was Ivory which we used for bathing, doing dishes, and washing “delicate” fabrics.
One drawback for us youngsters was that Ivory was used not only for our Saturday night bath but also for washing our hair. The soap would sting something fierce if it got into our eyes which meant we had to keep a towel handy. And yes, back in those days we actually took Saturday night baths in a galvanized wash tub filled with water heated on the kitchen stove. Ivory’s floating bar made bathing easier because we could easily spot the soap which kept slipping away.
Ivory not only cleansed well, but rinsed off cleanly and reportedly was very good in removing bacteria because it was sightly acidic. It also tended to dry the skin but this usually wasn’t a problem — with at least one exception. Dad used Ivory in his shaving mug (remember them?) — whipping up a lather with his shaving brush.
While he got a nice lather which softened his whiskers, his face also became so dry and irritated he finally started using a “shaving soap” to relieve the problem.
One of my family chores when I was in the sixth grade was doing the supper dishes and with six boys and two girls at the table this was a pretty good-sized job. Guess that’s when I learned to appreciate what a good job Ivory did in cleaning the pots and pans as well as the dishes. And, yes, as chief cook and bottle-washer in our household today I still prefer to use Ivory dishwashing liquid.
The success of Ivory led to a competitor - I think it was an outfit called Lever Brothers — coming up with its own white floating soap called Swan. Swan had its run during the 1940s and 1950s and I know it sponsored popular radio programs such as “George Burns and Gracie Allen” because I still hear the advertising on my satellite radio channel for old time radio. Nope, Swan just didn’t make the grade.
Several years ago I received a sample of a “new, improved” Ivory with the request I try it and let P&G know what I thought. Well, I tried it and found the company must have added some kind of creamy or oily substance to the formula. I didn’t like it and called the 800 number to let them know and to ask if they were replacing the “old” Ivory with this new version. I was assured this was just a trial and the “old” Ivory would remain on the shelves.
OK, so what’s going on that puts Ivory on the bubble? Simply put, it’s sales performance. As the public increases its preference for body washes and liquid hand soap over bar soap, Ivory’s market share has been dropping - and “market share” is an overpowering word in the business of consumer products. Ivory sales have reportedly declined about 4% a year for the past several years and that’s bad news for any product line.
Just what the future holds for the country’s oldest brand name soap is anyone’s guess. I suppose the ultimate decision will lie with those who weigh the knowledge that Ivory soap bars are in more American households than any other
P&G beauty product against the corporate plan to slim down its product lines. Dumping such an iconic brand - one with generation after generation of loyal users - would no doubt be an uncomfortable choice but “business in business” and sentimentality has no place in such decisions. As for me, I guess I’ll plan on stocking up a bit on Ivory products — just in case. Better be safe than sorry. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.