Endorsed by queens and celebrities, Pond’s Cold Cream and Vanishing Cream were revolutionary products that were aggressively marketed, which contributed to the foundation of the modern cosmetics industry, making proper skin care a vital priority for women of all ages at the turn of the century.
According to James Bennett, “Pond’s started out in 1846 as a patent medicine company when Theron T. Pond, a pharmacist from Utica, New York, began selling ‘Golden Treasure’, a homeopathic remedy he developed from witch hazel. In 1849, Theron Pond, Alexander Hart, and Edmund Munson formed the T. T. Pond Company to make and sell Golden Treasure which was renamed Pond’s Extract. After the American Civil War, soap and toiletries were added to the product list. Changes of ownership, Theron Pond’s death, and legal disputes over who owned the manufacturing rights to the extract, created problems for the early Pond’s, but by the 1880s things had settled down and the Pond’s Extract Company emerged.
Pond’s Extract was a mixture of witch hazel distillate, alcohol and water. It was promoted as a general cure-all for a wide variety of ailments including: burns, colds, catarrh, wounds, chilblains, hoarseness, sore throats, piles, scalds, bruises, sunburn, rheumatism, chapped hands, bites, boils, chafing, lameness, nosebleed, frost bite, inflamed eyes and female complaints. In the 1880s, several new witch hazel based preparations were added to the company’s product line including: an ointment, a dentifrice, plasters, a toilet cream, a soap, a lip salve, a catarrh cure, and medicated papers.”
John W. Hartman continues, “Pond’s began its first national advertising campaign in 1886, using the services of the well-established J. Walter Thompson Company. Even though the Pond’s company began creating other products based on the Extract in the 1890s, it advertised only Pond’s Extract until 1910. Around that time, owing the broader availability of witch hazel at a lower price, it became clear that Pond’s Extract had no future. Among the products the company developed early in the new century were Pond’s Vanishing Cream and Pond’s Cold Cream. J. Walter Thompson Company began creating ads focusing on the glycerine-based Vanishing Cream in 1910. In the early ads, Pond’s Extract and Cold Cream were often mentioned briefly at the bottom of the copy. In 1914, advertising for Pond’s Extract ceased, and a new campaign was initiated, promoting the Vanishing Cream and Cold Cream together in ads with the theme “Every normal skin needs these two creams.” The new ads drew a clear distinction between the intended functions of the two products: Cold Cream to cleanse, Vanishing Cream to protect the skin.”
James Bennett notes that “both creams – developed by William Wallbridge, a chemist who worked at the Pond’s factory – were characteristic of their class: the cold cream was a beeswax-borax emulsion made with mineral oil; and the vanishing cream was a stearate emulsion using glycerine as the humectant”. Jennifer Scanlon notes it was called vanishing cream because “many creams at the time required a great deal of massaging, but the ponds vanishing cream, requiring little rubbing, would vanish into the skin.”
John W. Hartman continues, “According to a JWT report, the success of this strategy was immediate,” with the 1916 sales showing a 27% increase for the Cold Cream and 60% for the Vanishing Cream. The campaign theme remained consistent for eight years, after which sales gains began to slow, though both creams still were leaders among the numerous brands marketed in the same product categories.
Concerned about the sales drop and changes in the competitive environment, JWT undertook intensive market research. The advertising agency reached the conclusion that the two Pond’s products “had begun to suffer from their very leadership. Reasonable in price, used by everyone, many women had begun to think that they could not be as good as creams that were more costly or that were imported. Their enormous popularity had brought them loss of caste; they lacked exclusiveness, social prestige” (JWT Account History, January 18, 1926). JWT launched a bold strategy to give the creams prestige: a testimonial campaign which included the endorsements of “three of the reigning queens of Europe, six princesses, titled ladies, and leaders of American society,” beginning in 1924. The campaign was carefully planned, and the ads were placed in a selection of the largest circulation women’s magazines, in a half dozen fiction and motion picture magazines, and in only one “class” publication, Vogue. Sales of the creams jumped again, and they maintained their leading positions in a crowded marketplace of similar products.”