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May 8, 2020

Vintage Toilet Paper Ads From the Early 20th Century

Toilet paper is a consumer brand that has been around for over 100 years. The basic product proposition has evolved very little, and the marketing is a tricky issue. You can’t really depict the product in use, or even go into detail on its performance!

Nineteenth-century approaches were of a medical nature. Gayetty advertised that his paper was purposely called “medicated paper”: at the time, we could only speak of poop in terms of health – understandable as in those years, bad hygiene mores were the basis of epidemics.

The same logic prevailed for “perforated medicated paper” recommended for hemorrhoids (1886). In subsequent decades, Freud would present his theories to the world but at the time, direct references to physiological needs remained off limits. Presenting the product in medical terms was the only way to sell bathroom tissue.

Durability and user-satisfaction were the foundations of Northern Tissue’s advertising in the 1920s whose ad appeared in the prestigious Life magazine. The market was beginning to change and toilet paper was by now a common object in daily use. From the creative choices made, we can see how the product was evolving and differentiating itself.

The purity of the paper and focus on female users defined the 1930s approach, including reassuring reference to medical advice.

In 1945, Scott focused on the role of the roll in germs at bay – foretelling the future for facial tissue. Scott actually illustrated the use of a mask made of tissue paper in order to avoid physical and “aerial” contact with the menace of the common cold.

With the advent of the Fabulous Fifties (1956 was the year when Elvis Presley’s first album shook up the younger generation), toilet paper advertising saw the smile make its debut, helping toilet paper migrate from remedy against infection to instrument for happiness.

Prized textures, convenience, satisfaction and conscientiousness became the key messages. It was early days for this approach rather than a trend, as the “place of shame” and of the unmentionable still remained a topic too delicate to be treated with such levity. The complexity of the issue can be inferred by the fact that only women and children featured in the ads. The macho man of the time was not allowed to have “weaknesses”.

(via iT's Tissue)


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