Tell it like it is - that’s the keynote of J. Walter Thompson’s
mould-breaking campaign for Persil Tablets, at number seven in this
week’s Adwatch - its highest spot.
Bored of hyperbole in soap ads consumers want to hear the truth, the
agency’s research revealed. With an innovative product, genuinely likely
to save time and trouble, it seemed good sense to let them do the
So the television campaign, launched in May, shows men and women telling
an unseen interviewer what they like about the product. Two launch
commercials of 60 seconds each spelled out the message over the first
few weeks, followed now by eight 20-second spots.
The interviewees’ answers are deadpan and ironic - a conscious swipe at
the patronising sales patter long associated with soap advertising - but
stress the convenience of the format. ’It’s hardly rocket science,’ says
This belated outbreak of honesty goes beyond the advertising. The
advantages of pre-dosage formats have been obvious since the appearance
of the first tea bags, but until now no soap company has seen any point
in encouraging consumers to be economical with its product.
However, that began to change with the introduction of concentrated
’We discovered that 70% of consumers routinely overdosed by about 30%,
because they were used to the larger quantities and didn’t believe the
smaller amount would work,’ says John Ballington, corporate affairs
director at Lever Brothers, the home laundry division of Unilever.
’But that doesn’t mean we sell more, because people stop buying the
product altogether,’ he adds. It was in the company’s interests to find
ways to prevent wastage.
As for the delay in getting the product to market, Ballington says there
have been difficulties in finding the right consistency, so that the
tablets dissolve in water but don’t break up in the packet.
Unless manufacturers can find a way of getting value back into
concentrates he believes there will be a gradual simplification in the
market, with a single-strength brand eventually marketed in powder,
tablet and liquid form.
The tablets innovation could help reverse a long decline. In the mid-70s
Lever ran neck and neck with Procter & Gamble, which markets Persil’s
arch-rival Ariel. But since then it has lost out to the steady advance
of retailers’ brands like Safeway’s Cyclon and Asda’s Logic, leaving P&G
the dominant player with more than half the market.
Lever’s morale crashed four years ago when its new brand, Persil Power,
had to be dramatically withdrawn. Procter & Gamble spotted that a
manganese accelerator included in the formula to give greater cleaning
power was rotting clothes in the wash.
But take-up on the new tablets has been brisk, Lever says, strengthening
a recent upturn. According to IRI, its value share rose from 27% last
year to 30%, at the expense of P&G which dropped from 57%% to 54%, with
retailers’ brands remaining steady at 14%.
Lever’s advantage may be short-lived, as P&G is test marketing its own
Ariel Discs in Grimsby and Cleethorpes. The company denies that this
move is related to the Persil initiative and says it has been testing
the viability of tablets for some time.
P&G has no date for a launch and says it will only market the product
when it is sure that customers want it. But this coolness under fire is
unlikely to last - if Persil Tablets catches on nationally there will be
rush to catch up, whatever the good folk of Grimsby think.