OPINION: Mills on ... Daz

News that a new Daz campaign is a soap opera featuring infidelity, betrayal and other suburban curtain-twitching activities is a bit like hearing that Donald Rumsfeld has discovered humility: pleasant, in a shocking way, but still leaves you wondering whether it's permanent or just a temporary aberration.

So far Donald remains Donald, but Procter & Gamble's radical shift on Daz is exciting coming as it does from an advertiser known not only for its conservative moral values, but also its conservative advertising values.

I can't say I'd recommend it as a way to pass the time, but if you were to watch a reel of P&G ads you'd notice two things: first, a pervading sense that, unless an ad is based on rationality and logic, there's no room for humour and emotion; second, that the P&G world is an idealised vision of happy families, of loveable children whose minds, if not their clothes, are squeaky clean, and where bad things don't happen. Real it isn't, at least not as the rest of the world knows it and certainly not as portrayed by soaps such as EastEnders. But then, if your corporate culture is rooted in mid-western Cincinnati and a philosophy that says that product superiority will always win out (obviously they lost the plot with Sunny Delight), why should we be surprised?

What better advertising reflection of that approach is there than the Daz Doorstep Challenge, a completely hokum piece of domestic theatre designed to demonstrate Daz power? But now the Challenge is no more, killed off by the belated realisation that not only was it dated, but also that it failed to connect on any level with its target market. Personally, I shall miss the Challenge if only because it performed a useful service to society by keeping fading C-list celebs off the streets (although clearly not in Michael Barrymore's case).

In its place comes Cleaner Close, a Brookside-style soap opera. And why not? It doffs the cap to an ad conceit invented in the 50s by P&G, who figured out that sponsorship of a daily TV drama series was an ideal way to target the mums with young families who made up the target market for detergents.

Of course, many advertisers since then have tried to ape the soap format by creating long-running sagas with a familiar cast of characters. Gold Blend is one obvious example, NatWest in the mid-90s another. It's an obvious thing to do if you're selling a low-interest product to a young mums' audience. But it isn't easy, not least because you're dealing with a target audience that lives and breathes the likes of Neighbours, Emmerdale and Corrie. You can get the soap bit right and the selling message wrong (too much or too little) or you can get the selling bit right and the soap bit wrong.

On top of that you need a determined and committed client. By definition, soap-style ads need time to get the characters established and enough budget to keep the plot moving along in sufficient 30- or 60-second chunks.

Get a client who loses their nerve or their job half-way through and the whole thing is blown.

Leo Burnett must be praying that doesn't happen. On the evidence of the first two episodes, which introduce us to some of the McGrath family, they're off to a fizzing start. Irish mum Maureen, matriarch of what I guess will prove to be a large and fractious brood, is a real star. The writing is tight, the storylines uncannily soap-like, the endings appropriately cliff-hanging and the sales messages obvious without jarring.

And by the way, I can't wait to find out which "grubby girl" wears the off-white 34B bra.

Dead cert for a Pencil? If TV Times readers had any say

File under ... I for intriguing

What would the chairman's wife say? "Hmm, influenced by Soap, isn't it?"

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