Concocted as a gift for his wife, the story goes, Graham Wulff a chemist in Durban, South Africa first created the silky smooth pink facial cream, Oil of Olay, in the early 1950s. By the end of the decade, Oil of Olay was selling worldwide. It was purchased by Richardson-Vicks in 1970 and Richardson-Vicks was purchased by Procter & Gamble in 1985 who, in 2000, shortened the name simply to Olay. Today, it is one of the most recognized brands in the beauty market around the world and is part of P&G’s $26.3 billion business in the beauty and grooming category (along with Head & Shoulders, Pantene, and Wella). But the Olay identity hasn’t changed much in the last fifty years. The cameo — which I didn’t know cameo was a word to describe a “piece of jewelry, typically oval in shape, consisting of a portrait in profile carved in relief” — of the Olay woman has only been updated twice in that time. Clearly, it was time for some rejuvenating treatment, executed by P&G’s design team, led by Ronald Burrage, Associate Director of Global Skin Design at P&G, and by consultancy LPK.
To move forward, the team had to first step back. “We analyzed beauty, fashion and other inspirational brands to understand how identities have evolved. You have to strike the right balance, celebrate historical assets — which possess wonderful memories and authenticity — but still lean into the future to be progressive and relevant” says Burrage. Many companies would give their eyeteeth to have an icon associated with their brand that is memorable and unique. The Olay team set to work, tapping into creatives from around the world. “Our objective was to not only breathe new life into Olay equities but to allow flexibility to show off her various moods; she can be playful, professional, elegant, authoritative — depending on the situation,” says Burrage.
— Press materials
The new icon, according to Burrage, had to be strong, stoic and confident, yet similar to the form known worldwide. It must hold its place with type or on its own, in color or embossed. It must be consistent and always present. And above all, like the women she represents, the new icon must be beautiful.
The biggest improvement to the cameo is that it is more independent, it can exist on its own as a strong, consolidated icon that is drawn with more focus and determination than the previous one which, at this point, if seen on its own I wouldn’t doubt it could be considered some random piece of clip art. It’s also interesting that the cameo is somewhat ambiguous in its race, it manages to strike resemblances of a few different types of women around the world. Not all, of course.
The typography is slicker in both execution and intention. It feels more contemporary and less like The New Yorker. But I do question the strange casing of it, as it reads “OlAy.” Kind of groovy visually, yes. But all kinds of wrong grammatically. As far as indicating a change and update, the typography does its job without losing equity. In the end, this is one of those changes that goes mostly unnoticed by customers who can’t really tell what’s new or different about their favorite product but they just know something feels a little fresher and distinct — like a good hair cut, or a freshly moisturized face. And that’s no small feat.