The Forgotten History of the Women Who Shaped Modern Advertising

From Ciara Lavelle’s article on Bitch Media:

“One major success of the Women’s Editorial Department was their digression from the typical advertising copy of the period—text that merely described what a product did without much embellishment. For example, an ad for Pond’s Vanishing Cream might explain its use (“Promotes firmness of skin texture”) alongside a drawing of the bottle. Resor’s team took a more psychological approach. “They connected the products in consumers’ minds with “a special kind of feminine allure, a hint of romance, social status, ideal beauty, or all of the above,” writes Denise H. Sutton, author of Globalizing Ideal Beauty, which traces the history and influence of the Women’s Editorial Department. It’s the same approach used today by car ads that feature attractive women.

The ads by Resor and her team also disregarded Victorian ideas of femininity. “A common theme [of advertising at the time] was the call to be a modern woman,” Sutton explains, noting that “most of the depictions of women during that time showed them as housewives.” Victorian morality discouraged women from traditionally male pursuits of sports, entertainment, or work outside the home—essentially anything that wasn’t cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. The Women’s Editorial Department’s ads placed the ideal woman squarely outside that realm. An updated Pond’s Vanishing Cream ad showed a woman golfing with her sleeves rolled up. The copy reads, “The Out-of-Doors Girl can easily avoid the unpleasant effects of sun and wind on her delicate skin.” Other portrayals of women showed them playing tennis, riding bicycles, and attending upscale parties. Resor’s modern woman was no mere housewife.”

helen resor

Helen Lansdowne Resor

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Women In Advertising

Women were already a force to be reckoned with in advertising well before Madmen’s ambitious Peggy Olsen worked her way from secretary to copywriter at Sterling Cooper in the 1960s. At the J. Walter Thompson (JWT) Advertising Company, women were responsible for advertising women’s products as part of JWT’s Women’s Editorial Department in the early decades of the twentieth century. The Women’s Editorial Department created many of the ad campaign strategies that we still see today.

1. Woodbury’s Soap slogan “A Skin You Love to Touch” is considered the first use of sex in advertising. The ad shows a man touching a
woman’s bare skin — revolutionary for 1914.

2. The use of sex in advertising was developed by a woman:
Helen Lansdowne Resor of the J. Walter Thompson Advertising
Company — she created the Woodbury’s Soap ad campaign.

3. Helen Lansdowne Resor created the Women’s Editorial Department at J. Walter Thompson and mentored female copywriters in the early
twentieth century.

4. Helen Lansdowne Resor created the wildly successful ad campaign
for Procter & Gamble’s Crisco Oil.

5. Helen Lansdowne Resor was the first woman to make a presentation to the board at Procter & Gamble in 1911.

6. The Women’s Editorial Department at J. Walter Thompson brought in more than half the revenue for the company for a number of years.

7. The Pond’s Cold Cream and Vanishing Cream ad campaign, created by JWT’s Women’s Editorial Department, introduced the modern testimonial ad.

8. Helen Lansdowne Resor led a JWT contingent in New York City’s mass suffrage parades.

9. Many of the women who worked in JWT’s Women’s Editorial Department had already had successful careers in social work, public relations, editing, retail advertising, journalism, and event planning, while others held positions in women’s organizations that were active in the Suffrage Movement.

10. Helen Lansdowne Resor (1886-1964) was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1967.