Iconic Ads: Morton Salt – When It Rains, It Pours
Morton’s came up with the logo and slogan to demonstrate that Morton Salt could be easily poured despite the wet conditions.
In the 1880s, Joy Morton invested in a salt firm in Chicago, and it was the beginning of the Morton family’s success. Back then, salt was very profitable because the pioneers and adventurers who were building the American West needed a lot of it. In the past, salt may not have been so readily available.
Salt has always played a vital role in the preservation of certain foods and is thus an essential part of any healthy diet. So, it’s not too strange that evidence of the first places people lived is often found near salt deposits. In numerous situations, war has broken out because of a dispute over salt.
Given salt’s vital role in human life, it’s hardly surprising that Joy Morton’s little business grew. Since the company was doing well, he decided to buy out his original business partners. By 1910, he’d amassed enough stock to rename the company after himself: the Morton Salt Company.
Around the same time, Morton’s business was also attempting to resolve an ongoing issue. Salt has a physical characteristic called hygroscopicity, which allows it to absorb moisture from the atmosphere. Unfortunately for cooks and chefs, salt has a nasty tendency to form lumps when it absorbs water.
Morton and his coworkers came up with a solution to this problem in 1911. They used magnesium carbonate as an anti-caking agent. Additionally, the salt was placed in a cylindrical container to assist prevent it from becoming wet. The end product was a salt that could be easily poured and wouldn’t clump together, which pleased the consumers. Morton was happy with his new invention, but he still had a problem. He wanted to let his consumers know that a new and better kind of his salt was now available. Just how was he supposed to get the word out that Morton salt was the way to go?
Morton commissioned N.W. Ayer and Company, to develop a campaign to highlight the anti-caking qualities of Morton’s salt. They came up with 12 ideas, plus three backups, to pitch to Morton’s upper management. Sterling Morton, Morton’s son and business secretary, thought it was brilliant that one of the ideas showed a young girl with an umbrella in one hand and a trailing packet of salt in the other. A legend was conceived after the other 14 concepts were discarded. Sterling Morton reflected on his foresight, saying, “Here was the whole story in a picture—the message that the salt would run in damp weather was made beautifully evident.”
The image was the very definition of purity and childlike wonder. Furthermore, it proved the worth of Morton salt by demonstrating how readily it can be poured even in a downpour.
The visual was effective, but the intended wording (“Even in wet conditions, it flows easily”) was too wordy. Sterling Morton observed, “We wanted something brief and sharp.”
Many other words were proposed, such as “Flows Freely,” “Runs Freely,” “Pours,” and the adage “It never rains but it pours.” The latter was deemed too negative, and after some rephrasing, the now-famous “When It Rains, It Pours®” tagline was born.
The first appearance of the ad was in the 1914 issue of Good Housekeeping.
Morton’s girl hasn’t changed much in appearance-wise, but she has made some adjustments through the years. In 1921, she had her first transformation when a stylist straightened her blonde mop and dyed it black. She adopted Shirley Temple’s signature curls in 1933 when Temple’s career as a child actor was taking off.
The Morton Salt Company is now using the sixth iteration of the umbrella girl, shown on its packaging. She is dressed in a yellow dress and has a dreamy expression on her face, evoking the spirit of the company’s founding year of 1968. Even though fans and customers keep asking for proof to the contrary, Morton Salt Company says that the famous picture was made up by an ad designer.