Boomers Were All Washed Up

During the boomer years, bar soaps were consumer products that were heavily advertised and promoted. As with toothpaste, hair products and laundry detergent, advertisers knew that boomer families had a history of staying loyal to specific soap brands, and they wanted to do everything in their power to win and keep that loyalty.

From the 1940s, ’50s, and into the ’60s, the advertising emphasis for many of these soaps was mostly about beauty and skin; using these products was going to make your skin smoother and make you look younger. Ads often mentioned lotions or special ingredients that gave their products that little something extra that the others did not have, and often cited scientists or doctors in the process. Surely the ads were not going to mention sweat and body cleansing for women who dusted the house in dresses and high heels? These ads were aimed not at the working class father, but at new boomer mothers. More than a dozen brands were marketed in that manner, including Lux, Camay, Dove and Palmolive, to mention a few. Ivory soap went its own way, sticking with their decades-old slogan of “99 and 44/100 percent pure.” This soap’s appeal played on boomer mothers’ desire for the best products to use on their new babies, but while they were at it, the ads would suggest, the soap was great for mom’s complexion, too.

Another exception to marketing soap as part of a beauty routine was by Dial soap. Dial, introduced in 1948 by Armour & Company (yes, the meat packers), was a true boomer product. By 1953, the company adopted the slogan most boomers will remember, “Aren’t you glad you use Dial? Don’t you wish everybody did?” Billed as an anti-bacterial soap, their ad marketing path went directly to the heart — or rather, nose — of the problem of daily cleanliness. They did, however, point to special chemical agents called “Super AT-7” that claimed made their anti-bacterial soap more effective than other brands.

The company was sold to Greyhound (yes, the bus company) in 1970 and since then was spun off into a consumer product division of its own. Unfortunately for Dial, the FDA banned some of the ingredients used in the manufacturing of the soap in the 1970s. Researchers were able to reformulate the soap with government-accepted ingredients and it continues to be sold today.

Mister Boomer’s household was loyal to toothpaste, but bar soap was a different story. The family seemed to stick with one brand for a few months, and then went on to another. Mister B thinks it probably had something to do with what was on sale that particular week. Mister B recalls seeing Ivory early on, when his sister was very young, then at one point or another, Lux and Lifebuoy and others. In later years, Irish Spring made an appearance, as did a bar just for his mother’s use: Dove. His father kept a bar of Lava soap in the basement, by the laundry sink, for cleaning up after car or yard work.

Dial soap was an exception for the family in that Mister B’s household did use it for an extended period of time. It mattered what was in the soap dish because the one bar was for the entire family’s use. Mister B recalls the yellow-orange color of the Dial bar that came in the gold wrapper. It was like it was a the precursor to the 1970s Harvest Gold rush. The smell was not to Mister B’s liking, but what his father bought was what the family used. Consequently, Mister B didn’t buy a bar of soap until he moved out.

Were you held captive to using the one family soap, boomers, or did you have your own?

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