The Skeptic, 5.2
Company logos have been in the news recently: from the multi-million pound re-invention of British Telecom, to the sad retirement of Nipper the fox-terrier, who for most of this century has cocked an ear to His Master's Voice. Far stranger, however, is the story of the corporate logo of Proctor & Gamble, parent company to such consumer favourites as Ariel, Fairy, and Vidal Sassoon, to name but a few. Here is a trademark with character: an old man's bearded face in the crescent moon, facing thirteen stars, all set within a circle. What does this odd-looking image mean? Who is the old man, why the moon, and why thirteen stars?
The first time the logo attracted attention was in 1980 when the company began to receive telephone calls and letters asking whether the company had been bought by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Proctor & Gamble denied this outright. Through 1981, the number of enquiries escalated to thousands, and the accusations shifted towards Satanism: the logo was claimed to be an evil symbol declaring the company's support of a Satanic cult, to which it was allegedly contributing 10% of its annual turnover. Supposedly, at the top of the logo, the old man's hair forms a devil's horn, and the curls in his beard are revealed by a mirror to spell out 666, the `mark of the Beast'. The thirteen stars, apparently, if joined up by lines in the correct way, also spell out 666. Another claim has it that an executive of the company had admitted the truth of a Satanic connection on a nationwide TV talk-show - Donahue, The Tonight Show, or David Letterman, depending on the version of the rumour, in true Friend-Of-A-Friend urban folklore style. It was even claimed that the Chairman of the Board had sold his soul to the Devil in return for the guaranteed success of the company!
Understandably, Proctor & Gamble worked very hard to counteract the rumours, issuing press releases, instigating legal action and even soliciting the support of leading Christian fundamentalists who announced their faith in the purity of the company. But what is the story behind the strange logo? According to Proctor & Gamble, the Moonies and Satanism claims are - to borrow a phrase from Stephen Fry - pure tommy-cock and poppy-twaddle. In fact, the history of the logo is straightforward, and easy to document: it has its origins in a simple sketch of a cross in a circle, used to mark shipments of `Star Candles', one of the company's earliest products in 1851. Over time, this developed into a star in a circle, and later the single star was replaced by thirteen stars, in honour of the original thirteen colonies of the United States. The final embellishment was the addition of the man-in-the-moon figure, which according to urban folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand was `a design as popular around the turn of the century as the happy face'' drawing became three-quarters of a century later.' Finally, in 1930 a sculptor was commissioned to create the definitive design we see today.
Still, the rumours periodically resurface. According to a syndicated report of 20 March 1991, Proctor & Gamble has answered more than 150,000 telephone calls and letters relating to the Satanism myth in the last ten years. A recent Kansas court case ruled that a couple accused of spreading this satanic stupidity must pay Proctor & Gamble damages of $75,000. Small fry, perhaps, to a multinational whose UK operation alone had a turnover of £884 million for 1989/90, but a significant victory against modern ignorance and superstition.
©Toby Howard 1995
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