Early Marketing Campaigns: The Pears Soap Company

The Pears Soap empire of England has enticed consumers with original marketing campaigns from the very beginning. Pears is also the world’s oldest soap company.

Pears Soap Advertisements: The “Bubbles Beauty Campaign”, painting by Sir John Everett Millais; poster ad from the 1890’s promoting cleanliness as a justification for racist imperialism; ‘Girl Washing Dog’ with Pears Soap, circa 1900 (V&A Museum)

In the beginning of the 17th century, Pears’ founder Andrew Pears developed the first soap of its kind—a transparent formula with wild foaming viscosity that at that time was not found in competitor’s brands. He continued to revolutionize the product, tweaking the formula and adding delicate scents of English garden flowers.  The constantly evolving company that originally sold skin-lightening powders, creams, and rouges to wealthy Londonites, found their niche selling soap.  Earning great success with endorsements from the affluent people of Oxford—from celebrities such as Lillie Langtry to the most highly respected skin care experts—they set out on a quest to master enhanced publicity for the selling of their product, targeting not only the rich, but the middle-class whose buying power was continuing to rise.

Through the generations, the Pears Soap Company torch was passed down and with every hand-off, their advertising campaigns became more clever, more original, and always appealed to the masses.

“Bubbles” by Sir John Everett Millais

With profound early successes through innovation, it was Barratt Pears (grandson of the founder, Andrew) who hit pay-dirt when he successfully convinced famed British artist, Sir John Everett Millais’, to relinquish exclusive rights for use of his painting ‘Bubbles’ as an advertisement for Pears. Millais, the most prosperous and successful English artist during the late 1800’s, had his reservations about what he feared would become a flagrant exploitation of his work—what we might today call “selling out.” He folded – and the result of this collaboration was a campaign of finesse and sophistication that Millais was very proud of.

Ultimately, the art world was quite hostile about his decision to cross-market his work and the debate over the scandalous use of a fine-art painting to market a common product continued on years after his death. This type of argument was new to the time, but timeless as it continued on well into the 20th century with Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup collection.

Barratt Pears claimed to have spent 30,000£ on the campaign and would pay off – after the first run of printing, millions of reproductions were created and sold—hung in homes around the world. This event would be one of the most notable births of people hanging advertisements as art.

Pears’ “Bubble Campaign” and Millais’ “Bubbles” would go down in history as the one of the most recognizable ad campaigns of all time. Pears still makes soap today.



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One Comment on “Early Marketing Campaigns: The Pears Soap Company”

  1. February 14, 2013 at 2:44 PM #

    I see John Everett Millais’ Bubbles is the art of the day at artfinder

    I’d like to hang this in my bathroom, but would anyone get the reference? Maybe a litmus test of sorts to consider lasting friendship? HeeHee

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