CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/DAZ - Daz dishes the dirt with a sex-and-soap strategy

Young consumers dislike its old doorstep challenge. Mark Sweney investigates.

It's out with the old and in with the new at Daz as its Procter & Gamble parent closes the door on its decade-long "doorstep challenge" in a bid to freshen up the image of the brand.

Since it was launched in 1993, the doorstep challenge has led Daz's advertising strategy with the likes of Shane Ritchie, Michael Barrymore, Danny Baker and, most recently, Julian Clary, "surprising" ordinary homeowners into trying out the detergent on their whites.

However, more recently P&G determined that the campaign was perceived as old-fashioned by younger consumers and was failing to capture significant numbers of new customers. Too many viewers saw the challenge as a phoney, and therefore meaningless, stunt.

In seeking the right successor, P&G wanted its agency, Leo Burnett, to put its most senior resource to work and requested that the creative director, Nick Bell, personally head the creative rethink.

"The brief was to create a brand new campaign and I was asked to be involved, I hadn't worked on P&G traditionally," Bell says. "It became quickly apparent that what was needed was a vehicle that could push a large number of sales messages such as value, whiteness and new product development."

Bell's answer was to return P&G to its advertising roots and parody soap operas. After all, it was P&G that sponsored the first soap opera in 1952, The Guiding Light, which ran in the US. P&G went on to sponsor radio shows with its Ivory soap brand, and mega-brands, such as Tide, followed suit.

The partnership was so successful it inspired a string of imitators and the soap-opera genre was born.

But change has been forced: Daz's most recent broadcast sponsorship, for ITV1's soap opera Emmerdale, complete with dogs dazzled by Daz's whites, failed to drive market share for the brand.

Winning over consumers with the right television creative is critical to P&G's overall advertising strategy for the Daz brand.

Burnett's new ad campaign, which comprises three executions, uses soap opera-style commercials in a fictional location called Cleaner Close.

They aim to articulate the reliability of Daz.

"Grubby affair" uses the theme of infidelity and features an overbearing mother who unwittingly exposes her son as a love cheat.

"Washing detergent isn't known for the most creative advertising, so I love a challenge like this," Bell says. "It was great fun to create dramas around the brand with ridiculously over-the-top plots. The juxtaposition within the storyline is that Daz is a product you can rely on."

There's a bit of a leap of faith in the new work. Daz consumers are used to a straight-forward approach with the doorstep challenge, now they are being asked to follow a relatively complex storyline. The subtlety of the message is a bit of a gamble - if Daz buyers respond then the gamble will have paid off.

A second risk is that in shifting Daz's audience even slightly, P&G risks cannibalising share from its other detergent brands. It controls 50 per cent of the UK market with sales in excess of £400 million, but in order to enjoy such revenues it has to position its Ariel, Bold, Daz and Fairy brands very distinctly. Ariel is at the top of the tree as the premium brand, Fairy is promoted on "softness" and the baby factor, "fragrance" is a key message for Bold, while Daz has traditionally focused on "whiteness".

If Daz's more intelligent message attracts a more up-market washer, it could pose a threat to Ariel's 19 per cent share of the overall detergent market.

Nevertheless, now is a good time for change. Intense competition between Unilever and P&G has led the sector to decline in value following price cuts. The soap powders also face a degree of pressure from the launch of products such as Febreze and even fabric softeners, which enable consumers to wash clothes less frequently.

Daz's change in direction comes when Surf, which competes in the same value category and is owned by Unilever, is itself going through a strategic rethink.

While Daz's doorstep challenge saw the brand really perform in the early 90s, Surf, however, had its heyday in the late 90s with the campaign it ran featuring the Birds of a Feather stars, Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson. That work, in fact, won an IPA Effectiveness Award in 2000. Mintel figures for 2001 show Daz with a 9 per cent share of the market and Surf with 7 per cent.

But since Surf's campaign wound down from late 2001, the incumbent agency, Lowe, has struggled to find a successor. The creative work has included a push based around last year's Jubilee and most recently the "99 stains" television and press ads, which list the top 99 stains that Surf claims to remove.

However, Unilever, like P&G, is clearly not happy with the ad strategy and earlier this month called in a roster agency, Mother, to offer fresh creative ideas and boost the brand's performance.

Devising the successor to a successful campaign involves hard work and risk. Daz is asking its consumers to respond to more intelligent advertising than they are used to. Bell believes that P&G is ultimately making the right move. "The idea does need establishing as an advertisement, but P&G has shown courage. This is a big leap for Daz," he says.