Magazine article Marketing

Persil's Power Failure

Magazine article Marketing

Persil's Power Failure

Article excerpt

When Persil stole a march on Ariel with an early, but flawed, Persil Power it paid the price. Amanda Richards investigates the backlash and Lever's efforts to restore faith in its brands

Ten months, two weeks and four days after Persil Power was born, Lever Brothers has finally switched off its life support system. It may linger on for a few months as a "speciality product" but it is, for all practical purposes, dead.

Whatever gloss Lever cares to put on the relaunch of Persil and the sidelining of Persil Power, it represents a humiliating climb-down and admission that millions of pounds of research and adspend have been poured down the drain. In the history of bad ideas, Persil Power deserves a place in the marketing history books alongside New Coke and the Ford Edsel.

Lever's managing director Andrew Seth still insists there is nothing wrong with Persil Power. He told a BBC2 audience last week: "The technology we introduced a year ago is first class, well ahead of the market, and technology we believe in."

But market share figures show that consumers believe another version of events. Despite a temporary upswing immediately after the May launch, by November Persil Power had slumped from a 2.5% peak to 1.9%. Overall, Persil's share had dropped by 1.1% to 23.6% (Nielsen). How could it have gone so wrong?

There's little doubt that the launch of Persil Power was rushed ahead to beat Procter & Gamble's Ariel Future to market. Lever's top people believed that in Persil Power's Accelerator they had that rare ingredient in the laundry sector, a genuine product advantage.

Industry scientists had known for years about the cleaning properties of manganese, the core constituent of Accelerator. They had also known it tended to damage coloured fabrics.

Was this just a question of the marketers - keen for a European brand - overruling the research and development people?

Within weeks of Persil Power hitting the shelves, Procter & Gamble's black propaganda campaign had begun, with pictures of badly-holed underwear splashed all over the tabloids. Lever's response, beyond claiming the P&G results reflected extreme conditions, was to ignore the criticism in the hope it would go away.

Rising above the mudslinging was a strong position to take, but Lever undermined its stance by simultaneously reformulating the product and insisting nothing was wrong. …

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