The material world: In the pink
The world's best-selling facial moisturiser was launched, 46 years ago, with a confidence trick
I'll let you in on a secret: there's no such thing as a ulay. The world's best-selling facial moisturiser was launched, 46 years ago, with a confidence trick. A successful one, because Oil of Ulay, so-called to give the impression that it contained the essence of an exotic plant, now sells six million bottles every year in the UK alone. British women spend pounds 113 million a year on creams to keep their skins moist and young-looking; of this total, 30 per cent goes to Proctor and Gamble, which now owns the brand, via Oil of Ulay products.
The cream was developed during the Second World War by a South African chemist called Graham Gordon Wulff, to prevent badly burned pilots from becoming dehydrated. Presumably this was not the potion we know - pink, fragrant, in bottles embellished with a mysterious, Madonna-like figure cupping her face with her hands - but a more medicinal forerunner. The principle, however, would have been the same: get as much moisture into the skin and minimise evaporation.
To achieve this, it probably used the same basic ingredients as it does today: glycerine, a humectant to absorb moisture from the air (just as you put it in Christmas cake icing to prevent it from drying out); various oily substances of mineral, vegetable and animal origins that form a film on the skin and keep the moisture in; and water to mix everything into an emulsion. This mixture will certainly hydrate your skin, but how or whether it makes you look younger is a trade secret, perhaps encrypted in the list of polysyllabic ingredients printed on the bottom of the box.
When the War ended and Wulff's market dried up, he had the idea that his burn cream might sell as a beauty treatment. He found a partner with some marketing experience, Shaun Adams Lowe, and together they came up with the name Oil of Ulay. Over the next 15 years, Wulff and Lowe shamelessly modified the name to suit each new market: it is sold in the United States as Oil of Olay, in the UK as Ulay, and most of Europe and South America as Olaz.
And will it make you look like Uma Thurman?
But what is "beauty fluid"? Some magical elixir that makes you look like Uma Thurman, for pounds 3.50 a bottle? It's all part of the mystique that surrounds the product, but to some extent this was accidental. At first Wulff and Lowe had no advertising budget (they sold the cream door-to-door in South Africa), so they relied for publicity on word of mouth. Then they noticed that by not saying much, they had kindled interest in their product. When they could afford press advertising, they kept them enigmatic, refusing to say what the "fluid" was made of, or even what it was supposed to do. This eccentric strategy gave the product a very broad appeal: women found in it whatever they needed. It wasn't until 1985 that Oil Of Ulay started to "segment" the market, and produce variations on the formula aimed at different groups of consumers.
One of these target groups was the under-35s, so long excluded, it was felt, by the "makes you look younger" line. Recently, though, Oil of Ulay seems to have become more relaxed about its image as a treatment for "mature" skin. The latest television advertisements use a 56-year-old model - not exactly elderly, but a realistic step away from the 20-year-olds usually featured. This could be the dawning of enlightenment, or just shrewd marketing. In an ageing population with an entrenched insecurity about looking old, rejuvenation must be a boom industry
Life & Style blogs
Guest post by Richard Sexton, business development director of e.surv chartered surveyors
Plus lateral thinking and living on London's waterways
Other popular areas include Didsbury, Clifton in Bristol, central Cambridge and West Bridgford
Living with Google Glass: what are they actually like to wear?
Microsoft's Xbox One: Have the price (£399) and release date (30 November) been leaked by online retailer Zavvi?
Splint made by 3D printer used to save baby’s life
The 10 Best road-trip gadgets
Google Glass: First images taken on Google's new glasses appear on Twitter
- 1 Exclusive: Woolwich attack suspect attended meetings of banned Islamist group - and were known by security services
- 2 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
- 3 Grace Dent: I’m not sure how these people can avoid being called ‘bigots’. And the more ‘civilised’, the worse they are
- 4 Woolwich murder: They killed, then they performed - these men should be starved of our attention
- 5 Woolwich attack: The EDL will seek to exploit this evil crime for their own evil ends
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.