ITV 50 Years of Fame: Private view - Persil

By Helena Ganczakowski, the market development director, homecareat Unilever UK Home and Personal Care, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 23 September 2005 12:00AM

Forget Coronation Street and EastEnders; Britain's favourite soap was born in 1910 when Persil became the first detergent to advertise in the press. Forty-five years later the brand scored another marketing first, when it became the first detergent to advertise on TV.

From "Persil washes whiter" to today's "dirt is good" campaign, Persil has always been a cherished brand right at the forefront of FMCG marketing.

The brand quickly established itself as a firm family favourite standing for traditional family values while also managing to add a contemporary twist. This last element was vital to keep the brand fresh and ahead of the game. Just as the nuclear family moved with the times, so too has Persil's approach to advertising.

The first TV ad in 1955 features a juxtaposition of media. It shows a billboard poster being pasted up as a dapper broadcaster asks the audience to guess the brand. The poster features an aspirational image of two attractive young women in pristine white dresses with the simple slogan: "Persil washes whiter - that means cleaner." It was the start of 50 years of TV heritage with whiteness right at the very core of Persil's personality and success.

In subsequent ads, Persil established its affinity with mums across the land by celebrating the important role mothers play in raising their children.

One ad asked the question "What is a mum?" (2) and, alongside motherly values such as patience and understanding, it suggested that the perfect mother uses Persil in her washing machine - a theme that came to dominate the brand's advertising for many years.

This championing of a woman's role even led to public acclaim from the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority; in 1982, both organisations acknowledged Persil's efforts in reflecting the changing role of British mums.

Next, in 1987, Persil pushed the boundaries of laundry advertising once again and became the first washing powder company to show a man doing his own washing (3). The ad features a young skinhead attempting to wash his shirt and, following a few mishaps, and a little help from his mum, he finally manages it. The ad epitomises 80s youth culture and it quickly became one of the most iconic commercials to hit UK television screens.

Then, after half a century of washing whiter, Persil embarked on a radical new approach: new creative treatments showing the reality of family life - dirt and all - replace the brand's trademark pristine white imagery (1).

This approach goes way beyond traditional soapbox advertising as Persil embraces its nemesis to examine the developmental and psychological benefits of getting dirty. Straplines such as "It's not mess, it's curiosity" and "It's not mess, it's imagination" capture the vibrant spirit behind a child's paint splattered T-shirt or grass-stained dungarees.

Persil's current campaign takes this thinking a step further. Through inspiring music and thought-provoking imagery, it positions dirt as an essential part of a child's development. From images of a young boy getting covered in marmalade as he makes breakfast for his parents to an old man battling with a fish on a muddy riverbank, the campaign explores the value of dirt and shows how Persil gives families freedom to live life to the full.

1. PERSIL RANGE Title: Dirt is good launch Agency: JWT Year: 2005 2. PERSIL POWDER Title: What is a mum? Agency: J. Walter Thompson Year: 1955 3. PERSIL AUTOMATIC Title: Skinhead Agency: J. Walter Thompson Year: 1986 4. PERSIL NON-BIO Title: Bear Agency: J. Walter Thompson Year: 1995 5. PERSIL POWDER Title: Champion dirt collectors Agency: J. Walter Thompson Year: 1971 6. PERSIL PERFORMANCE TABLETS Title: Honesty campaign Agency: J. Walter Thompson Year: 1998

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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