Olay started in South Africa in 1949 by Graham Wulff, an ex-Unilever chemist. The name “oil of Olay” was chosen by Wulff from the word “lanolin,” a key ingredient.
It was unique in the early days because it was a pink fluid rather than a cream, packaged in a heavy glass bottle. Wulff and his marketing partner, Jack Lowe, a former copywriter, had tested the product and were confident in its uniqueness and quality.
Olay’s marketing was unique as it was never described as a moisturizer or a beauty fluid. Nowhere on the packaging did it say what the product actually did. Print advertising used copy such as “Share the secret of a younger looking you” and talked about the ‘beauty secret’ of oil of Olay. Other advertising were written as personal messages to the reader from a fictitious advice columnist named Margaret Merril. They ran in Readers’ Digest and newspapers and often looked like editorials.
Wulff and Lowe ran the company under the banner of Adams National Industries, did not sell the product to the trade, but waited for pharmacies to ask for it based on consumer requests.
As the company began to market the product internationally, it was decided to modify the name of the product in each country so it would sound pleasing and realistic to consumers. This led to the introduction of oil of Ulay in the UK, oil of Ulan in Australia, and oil of Olaz in Netherlands.