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Woodbury Facial Soap: The First Product 'Sex Sells'

Cristen Conger

 Courtesy: FinnFemme
Courtesy: FinnFemme

In 1917, the same year the Mata Hari was arrested for spying, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded and World War I began winding down, sex began selling products in American advertising. Sex appeal had already been used to peddle tobacco, but the promise of sex hadn't yet been used to target an ad audience.

The CBC's podcast on "Mad Women: The Great Women of Advertising" discusses Helen Resor who, along with her husband, first used sex in mainstream marketing. In 1917, Resor's ad for Woodbury Facial Soap "is credited as being the first time 'sex' was used to sell a product," CBC reports. It encouraged women to follow a Woodbury skincare regimen to get "A Skin You Love to Touch" -- and that dashing men will love to kiss.

As creative director of the ad agency J. Walter Thompson, Helen Resor recognized the buying power women wielded and created a Women's Editorial department as a result. Named in Advertising Age's top 100 industry greats in the 20th century, Helen Resor was considered "the greatest copywriter of her generation." Her Woodbury campaign would also be the first to integrate (tasteful) nudity, with an ad featuring a woman sunning poolside in her birthday suit.