The brand has a history of quite annoying, smug advertising about how white Ariel washes (a husband resorting to feeding only white food to his baby was a low point). The wooden Tim Henman has been cast as a spokesman in more recent campaigns. All in all, evidence of a belief in the power of strong creative work has been absent for some time.
"Ice fishing", now on air, breaks this tradition. It features an Eskimo woman appearing to fish through a hole cut in the ice. The scenery is dramatic, the music emotive. She reels in her line and pulls out, not a baby seal, but a clean white babygro.
The ad is designed to demonstrate Ariel's ability to wash in cold cycles.
It does this clearly. As a dramatic piece of film, it will stand out in a daytime ad break populated by loan companies and contingency law firms flogging their wares.
It's a warm film (no small feat given its icy setting) and as such is better equipped to build a relationship with consumers than its predecessors.
With this ad, I think you are really starting to see Procter & Gamble backing more creative strategies; its commitment to creativity is moving beyond simply attending the Cannes International Advertising Festival every year.
Although my instinct is to applaud the shift, I'm not sure it has been appropriately applied in this case. Busy mums will find the film a bit arty and irrelevant. It totally falls flat on practical issues such as wouldn't the babygro freeze and has the Eskimo woman been chucking loads of tablets in the sea? Even worse, might not some viewers start off thinking the baby that filled the babygro has been lost beneath the ice?
An ad for washing powder needs to hold practicalities in high regard - take Bartle Bogle Hegarty's animated Surf work, which revolves around a red sock dying a load of washing pink, or that it's annoying when birds crap on your clean laundry. Its ads might not be the most entertaining films, but they're about stuff consumers can relate to and they demonstrate the brand's understanding of its customers' needs.
The other problem with "ice fishing" is that Ariel's strapline - "that's another load off your mind" - has been relegated as some almost invisible writing in the top right-hand corner. It's a strong strapline and one that, used correctly, could underscore a strong positioning.
The reason it has been relegated in this case is that it is irrelevant to the rest of the commercial. Alarm bells should have been ringing at an early stage in the ad's development.
The temptation to turn a neat creative idea into an ad has been given in to, despite the fact that the ad doesn't fit comfortably with Ariel's existing strategy. Creative has brushed strategy to one side. Saatchi & Saatchi has not wasted P&G's money, it just hasn't spent it that wisely.
Still, the spot demonstrates that agency and P&G are working together to come up with more creative advertising solutions. With P&G spending upwards of £190 million a year above the line in the UK, that can only be good news.
Dead cert for a Pencil? Probably get something in Cannes.
File under ... H for hollow.
What would the chairman's wife say? "What a pretty little ad."