A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Is Procter & Gamble run by satanists?

July 1, 1986

Dear Cecil:

I heard a rumor that the people who run Procter & Gamble belong to the Church of Satan, and that the symbol on most P&G products (it looks like the man in the moon surrounded by dots, but it's so small you can't tell for sure) reflects this affiliation. I'm more than happy to let others pursue Satan at their own risk, but I feel a little queasy knowing there's a satanic figure stamped on every box of Puffs, Cascade, and the many other P&G products I've come to like. Is there any truth to this story or has it been concocted by Lever Brothers or some other P&G competitor?

Cecil replies:

Judy, I hate to be cruel, but did your mother take thalidomide, or what? You may well be the last person in North America to hear this story, which is taken seriously chiefly by people who talk to themselves on the bus. More to the point, Procter & Gamble decided to phase out its man-in-the-moon logo in May 1985. In other words, not only have you been taken in by a totally idiotic rumor, you have been taken in by a totally idiotic rumor that is years out of date.

[Cecil's note: Lest you think we dragged this out of the dead dogs file just to re-embarrass Judy, you should know that the last question we got asking if P&G was run by satanists was dated January 31, 1997.]

No one knows exactly how the satanism stories got started, but they first attracted attention in the South in the late 1970s. They were inspired by the enigmatic P&G logo, which featured the man in the moon in a circle along with 13 stars. The stars and the circle were an outgrowth of an old symbol that was used to identify cartons of Star Candles, an early P&G product; there were 13 stars to symbolize the 13 colonies. The man in the moon was added around the turn of the century for no better reason than the fact that it was a popular symbol at the time. Somehow people made the leap from this to satanism. Some said that if you held the logo up in front of a mirror, you could see "666" (the "mark of the beast," symbolic of the Antichrist) in the swirls in the man in the moon's beard. Others said you got 666 if you connected the stars with curving strokes. A minority view held that the logo merely proved the company was owned by the Moonies.

At any rate, in the early 1980s P&G began getting thousands of phone calls about its links to the forces of darkness — 15,000 a month at one point. Many of the calls were inspired by fliers passed hand to hand claiming that 10 percent of P&G's profits went to the Church of Satan, and that the president of the company had admitted P&G's diabolic connection on the Donahue show. [The 1997 version of the rumor says this show aired in 1994; in fact by 1994 the Donahue people had spent more than ten years denying any such show had ever taken place.] All of the rumors, so far as can be reasonably determined, are bunk.

Determined to fight brimstone with brimstone, the company convinced Jerry Falwell and other fundamentalist leaders to proclaim P&G's innocence. P&G also invited reporters down to its corporate headquarters to check the place out, and even sued people it caught spreading the rumor. (Some of these, interestingly, were employed by rival consumer products companies, although there is no evidence that the companies themselves were involved.)

The credulousness some people display about things like this is amazing. Once on a radio talk show I got into a discussion of "dumb things people believe," in the course of which I happened to mention the P&G rumor. Having at the time a childlike faith in the good sense of the populace, I failed to emphasize sufficiently that the dumb things people believed were in fact not true. The P&G switchboards lit up, and the next day a frantic P&G flack was on the phone inquiring why I was spreading horrible rumors about his employer. Had I been so inclined I could probably have parlayed his concern into a lifetime supply of Tide, but as it was I merely promised that I would be more careful in the future.

P&G's efforts succeeded in damping down the rumor for a time, but it flared anew in 1984. At last the company threw in the towel and announced that it would phase out its logo, then 103 years old. Eventually it was to appear only on P&G's letterhead and internal publications, and of course at any Black Masses that the company happened to sponsor. Having just inventoried the closets here at Straight Dope World HQ, I can tell you the logo appears on none of the P&G products we happen to have. But judging from your letter, I'd say the company's problems are a long way from over.

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A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
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