THE MATERIAL WORLD: Softly softly

The lower orders had been used to redeploying the Daily Mirror while the better-off had learned to grin and bear it with the intimidating Izal and Bronco
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If you can afford no other extravagance, "luxury" toilet paper should, as it were, be in reach. For the majority of Britons interested in this application, Andrex comes to mind as readily as it comes to hand.

Every European language has a word for lavatory (Lat: lavare "to wash) which emphasises the semantics of seclusion: the oldest English word is "privy". Where better to enjoy solitary pleasures and modest indulgences? Hence the number of fascinating dog-eared books and magazines found in loos. Hence the astonishing success of "luxury" toilet paper. British consumers spend pounds 300-a-minute on Andrex, making it the seventh best-selling product in the country.

Think of the alternatives

The literature of toilet paper and its equivalents is very slight. We know that Romans used a brine-soaked sponge on a stick, that Siberians use snow, but the history of hygiene practices is far from complete. A type of tissue paper recognisable to contemporary eyes was available in the mid-19th century, although it was only in 1907 that the US paper manufacturer Scott, parent of Andrex, introduced a soft crepe paper.

Bucking bronco

Andrex (named after St Andrew's Mill in Walthamstow, east London) was not sold in Britain until 1942, when it first appeared in Harrods as a paper hankie. But the English were at first sceptical: the lower orders had been used to redeploying the Daily Mirror while the better-off had learned to grin and bear it with the intimidatingly shiny and resistant (and ever so British) Izal and Bronco. Somehow, the institutional severity of folded leaves of shiny paper was in revealing contrast to the more sensuous American continuous roll.

It took the stoical British a while to acquire the Andrex habit. In 1957, when pink Andrex was introduced, three-quarters of the British population was still inured to glazed, hard paper, but by 1961 Andrex was market leader, and the developing taste for its luxury toilet tissue has now matured to annual sales of 380million rolls a year. The total loo paper market is about 10lbs per person per year, or one- and-a-half billion rolls. Significantly, the French use about 20 per cent less, (while the Swedes, equally significantly, use about 50 per cent more).

Keep them doggies rollin'

Of course, creating such a demand for something so superfluous has been the responsibility of ingenious advertising campaigns. Andrex's winsome labrador puppy (code for: innocent, natural, lovable, soft, strong; think pit-bull to savour the nuances) was introduced by J Walter Thompson in 1972. Idealised Andrex puppies are between seven and nine weeks old, and three or four entire litters are used in a single shoot, since puppies tire after ten minutes before the camera.

Besides the classic white, a minority taste, and the late-Fifties pink, Andrex tissue is currently available in a twee pastel spectrum of peach, honeysuckle, blue and green. Eighty per cent of consumers choose coloured toilet rolls, a surprising testament to the enlargement of popular taste since the harsh sway of Bronco.

It is the natural inclination of all consumer products to evolve as old appetites become sated. In our highly evolved consumer culture mere "luxury" toilet tissue has become a commonplace. The consumer is now being enticed into positively decadent levels of discrimination and consumption. Andrex has now introduced the aerated Andrex Gold (as rival to Kleenex Quilted). A fierce technical conflict - for hearts, minds and, no, one daren't say it - between the fundamental advantages of aeration and quilting may now be expected.

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