I only mention the war by way of introduction to J. Walter
Thompson's new TV campaign for Persil Non-Bio and the fact that the
family is back from a week's roasting in Majorca. Didn't do much apart
from slobbing around the hotel pool.
Us outnumbered by a few hundred Germans. "Just like Arnhem," I muttered
to my wife on arrival. "What's Arnhem?" she replied.
I was too sheepish to explain. Holidaying cheek by sunburned jowl in the
Balearics with planeloads of passengers from Bremen and Lubeck has us
reverting from global villagers to xenophobics faster than you can say
Towels on sunbeds still fuel all the old prejudice. The sun had barely
clipped the horizon one morning when the hotel manager was courageously
removing the offending items. This was much to the anger of a large lady
from the North-East who seemed to have stepped straight out of
"Eez too early," the manager explained.
"Well, if it's too bloody early," the Manchester matron boomed, pointing
to the massed ranks of towels in place elsewhere, "why don't you do
something about them Germans?"
But back to the Persil films, which cast jam-smeared babies as Winston
Churchill, open on a squadron of playmobile Spitfires and spoof the
speeches of the great wartime orator.
UK advertising is no different to anybody else in the country in the way
it regards the Germans and can never resist a pop at them. Our creatives
have always felt inherently superior to their German counterparts.
German advertisers don't think they'll be taken seriously if their ads
try to be funny; UK clients believe the reverse is true. Laddish
creative departments perpetuate a relationship in which the Brits
delight in puncturing Teutonic uptightness but envy its success.
Witness the Carling spot featuring the towel skimming across the pool
and on to the sunbed to the strains of the Dambusters' March. Or the
Sega ads exploiting the rivalry engendered by what has been a one-sided
contest on the football field.
The Persil ads are from the same stable. But, being the product of
Berkeley Square's university of advertising, the humour is subtle rather
than overt. I love the vignettes in which one child turns his attention
to a spot of bricklaying and another to watercolour painting - just as
the aged bulldog did during his twilight years at Chartwell.
Still, I'm not sure whether a campaign based on the fact that all babies
look like Churchill justifies JWT's contention that this marks a return
to Persil's emotional heartland. More like the result of desperation to
find yet another way of saying Persil washes cleaner and whiter, I'd
have thought. After all, Persil has adorned the JWT client list since
Stanley Baldwin was prime minister. Just how many times can you change
I suspect Persil has yet to recapture the true "emotional heartland" it
occupied a few years ago with "slice of life" films such as the one
featuring a skinhead making a pig's ear of washing his Ben Sherman, a
clever observation on the "new lad" who, in reality, couldn't live
without his mum.
And what about that deceptively simple poster campaign which showed a
Persil label sewn on to the inside collar of a clean and crisp
Not much since has come near to those halycon days when Persil "owned"
clothes and the brand wasn't just something you washed with but "wore".
The Churchill commercials look more like a hit-and-run raid in
comparison. But I said I wouldn't mention the war.
Dead cert for a Pencil? Probably not, although a step in the right
direction for JWT after Smirnoff and Kit Kat. Worth a plastic daffodil,
Will it work? Given the heavy ahhhhh factor, most probably
What would the chairman's wife say? Are you sure this isn't a Pampers ad