Opinion: Beale on ... Persil

Has David Beckham discovered irony? I mean, if you're going to romp with a woman who's not your wife, who better to pick than one called Loos? How marvellous.

But how sad that these News Of the World allegations of an illicit affair have smutted one of adland's most prolific stars. Forget the domestic heartache, hear those hundreds of marketing managers weep as their brands find themselves caught between effluence and fan. Just ahead of Euro 2004 as well, damn it.

Ah well, there's still Michael Owen if it's a role-model footballer you're after to give your brand a feel-good lift. He has all the charisma of an Anfield goalpost, but he's scored 13 goals for Liverpool this season and what a nice boy.

And thanks to Persil, Owen's cleaner than ever, bless him (well, apart from that Mirror story about his mum, a lawsuit and the builder who unfortunately committed suicide just as the PR for the new ad campaign broke).

Yes, Owen has landed the starring role in the latest Persil ad, though in deference to his acting style his actual appearance in the ad has been kept as brief as Rebecca Loos' white cotton G-string.

The strategy behind this ad is actually a really smart one. It's all about celebrating dirt, because the dirtier you get, the more you're really enjoying life. Most washing powder ads are about how long-suffering mum can bung the family's smelly smalls into the washing machine as quickly as possible and produce sparkling clean clothes with a minimum of fuss. Persil's idea that dirt is a sort of badge of pleasure - something to champion - is a nice point of difference in an amorphous, creatively challenged sector. I can't see the nation's clothes washers whooping with joy at the sight of a pair of stiff Y-fronts or a mud-crusted sports kit, but it's a neat twist.

I know all this stuff about the strategy because the agency (J. Walter Thompson) told me. I'm not sure it actually comes across that strongly in this first ad in the series. The ad follows a baby-to-toddler-to-young boy playing footie, getting muddy, obsessed with scoring goals. And he grows up to be Owen.

Visually it's like the million other ads that have used football as a cipher and - well written, sharply directed and sweet though it is - has about as much stand-out as a red scarf at Saturday-afternoon Anfield.

The ad has some cutesy-cheeky-scamp appeal, thanks to the main little boy. But there are two problems. The first is the voiceover. It's actually Michael's mum on the soundtrack, talking about her lad's obsession with the beautiful game (apparently, she asked to get paid for her efforts with a year's supply of Persil. Which was nice for the in-house PR team).

Only Michael's mum is not what you'd call a natural. Instead of giving the ad some real-life warmth, she tackles the script with as much flair as a conference division substitute defender.

The second problem with the ad is the biggest: Owen himself. Here we have this sweet little story about a boy with an obsessive dream. But the boy turns into a rictus-grin cardboard cut-out, absolutely devoid of any flair or charisma, rigidly clutching a packet of Persil as though it is the only thing holding him up. Was this the hundredth take of this shot? When Owen says "thanks mum", I swear he's reading from an auto-cue.

It is truly painful to watch and undermines everything that has come before it. Is an association with Owen really worth this excruciating end-frame?

Give me a dirty Becks any day.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Only as a metaphor for Owen's acting ability.

File under ... P for painful.

What would the chairman's wife say? "So this is what £1 million

buys you?"

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