OPINION: Mills on ... Lever Brothers versus Mrs Mopp

Kristina is 18 and from Prague. She’s an au pair in Chiswick. Charles and Fiona hired her through an agency. She looks after their two lovely children, Henry and Harriet, for which she gets pounds 40 a week plus board and lodging. But the money doesn’t go far in London so, since Henry and Harriet are at school from 9am to 3pm, Kristina puts an ad in the newsagent’s window: ’Au pair seeks housework/cleaning duties. Two to three hours a day. Reasonable rates.’ Apocryphal? I doubt it. Even if we don’t employ a Kristina we probably know someone who does.

Kristina is 18 and from Prague. She’s an au pair in Chiswick.

Charles and Fiona hired her through an agency. She looks after their two

lovely children, Henry and Harriet, for which she gets pounds 40 a week

plus board and lodging. But the money doesn’t go far in London so, since

Henry and Harriet are at school from 9am to 3pm, Kristina puts an ad in

the newsagent’s window: ’Au pair seeks housework/cleaning duties. Two to

three hours a day. Reasonable rates.’ Apocryphal? I doubt it. Even if we

don’t employ a Kristina we probably know someone who does.



As of last week, however, the Kristinas of this world are under

threat.



The source is an unlikely one: Lever Brothers, which last week announced

it was setting up Myhome, a domestic services company that plans to

supply branded dry cleaning and laundry services as well as home

cleaning.



Now it’s not a move without sense. Just as the US railroad companies

went bust because they thought they were in the train business, not the

transportation business, Lever has discovered that its customers don’t

want soap powder or bleach but clean clothes and clean sinks. So why not

actually do the cleaning for them?



Now add in two other factors. First, we are increasingly affluent but

we’re also increasingly time-starved. More of us are therefore prepared

to pay for others to do our drudge work - hence the rise of the Kristina

factor. Second, compared with Lever’s normal markets, which are mature

to the point of static, domestic services is not only growing fast but

also carries margins double those in the soap business.



By branding the Myhome concept - its first products are the Persil

laundry and dry-cleaning services and Jif home cleaning - Lever can

maximise the heritage and goodwill inherent in the names a step

further.



That’s the theory. And Lever isn’t the first company with a

manufacturing or FMCG background to seek to migrate its brands into

tangential services.



Nestle operates Nescafe-branded cafes in motorway stations; Ford has

already made its ambitions clear with the purchases last year of

Kwik-Fit and Hertz and a joint venture in insurance with Norwich

Union.



It’s an interesting idea, one certainly in tune with the idea that the

companies that will succeed are those that get closest to their

customers.



Can we thus envisage Blockbuster getting into babysitting services (plus

a video for the kids), Tesco as a provider of dinner-party catering or

B&Q providing gardening and home maintenance? Again, it makes sense.



But logic and credibility don’t always go hand in hand or, to put it

another way, isn’t Lever taking a risk by getting away from its core

competency?



This is especially pertinent for companies such as Lever and Ford whose

background is in mass production, not service, and especially not

service of the highly personal variety.



You’ve got to applaud Lever for trying, but this feels like a leap too

far - especially if, based on the price Myhome quoted me, it’s charging

three times what I pay Kristina.



Become a member of Campaign from just £45 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Why creative people have lost their way

What better way to kick off the inaugural issue of Campaign's monthly print offering than with another think piece on the current failings of our industry, written by an embittered, pretentious creative who misses "the way things used to be"...

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).