90’s Irish commercial for Oil of Ulay.
Olay began life in South Africa as oil of Olay. Graham Wulff (1916-2008), an ex-Unilever chemist from Durban, started it in 1949. The name “oil of Olay” was chosen by Wulff as a spin on the word “lanolin”, a key ingredient.
It was unique in the early days because it was a pink fluid rather than a cream, packaged in a heavy glass bottle. Wulff and his marketing partner, Jack Lowe, a former copywriter, had tested the product on their wives and friends and were confident in its uniqueness and quality.
Olay’s marketing was also unique, since it was never described as a moisturizer, nor even as beauty fluid. Nowhere on the packaging did it say what the product actually did. Print adverts used copy such as “Share the secret of a younger looking you” and talked about the ‘beauty secret’ of oil of Olay. Other adverts were written as personal messages to the reader from a fictitious advice columnist named Margaret Merril. They ran in Readers’ Digest and newspapers and often looked like editorials.
Wulff and Lowe, who ran the company under the banner of Adams National Industries, did not sell the product to the trade, but waited for pharmacies to ask for it based on consumer requests.
As the company began to market the product internationally, it was decided to modify the name of the product in each country so it would sound pleasing and realistic to consumers. This led to the introduction of oil of Ulay (UK and Ireland), oil of Ulan (Australia) and oil of Olaz (France, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany). In 1970, ANI opened a test market in USA (Chicago), and was expanding into northern Germany.
1970 to 1985
Richardson Merrell Inc (later Richardson-Vicks Inc) acquired ANI in Nov 1970. RVI:
- capitalized the “Oil” and added the sub name ‘Beauty Fluid’ to help protect the trade mark
- added a sales force
- created TV advertising
- added products such as Night of Ulay and Beauty Cleanser
- expanded into more countries (Spain, France, Germany)
The result of Richardson Merrell’s efforts was a dramatic increase in sales. However, as with many brands, the business was not managed uniformly so there were differences between the countries.
1985 to 2005
RVI was acquired by Procter & Gamble in 1985. P&G greatly expanded Olay both in line up and in countries. Olay became one of P&G’s Billion dollar brands in 2003.
Since then, the range has been expanded to include a full range of hypoallergenic variants, cleansers and creams with the aim of meeting the full range of skincare needs, whatever the user’s age or skin type. The brand also includes soap, and body wash. Olay Cosmetics was launched in 1996 but discontinued in 2001.
In 1999, it was decided to unify the brand under a global name. Thus, Oil of Ulan and Ulay became Olay on a worldwide basis, except in German-speaking regions, where it remained Oil of Olaz. In the Netherlands, it was renamed just Olaz.
The Olay brand has expanded into a range of other products grouped in “boutiques” including Complete, Total Effects, Regenerist, Quench (North America), White Radiance (Asia) and Olay Vitamins (USA). Olay is the market leader in many countries including USA, UK, and China . Olay has extended its heritage as a moisturizer to stay looking young, to formally creating the “anti-aging” category in mass stores with the launch of Total Effects in 1999. The launch was almost double the typical price of a mass market moisturizer at the time. Today, there are numerous products in market more expensive than Olay.
Olay Regenerist was the best performing anti-aging cream in a 2006 test done by a consumer association. In August 2007, Olay was launched in India.
Olay’s current slogan is “love the skin you’re in”.