Persil Power all washed up

Persil Power, the controversial washing powder, appeared to have been killed off by its owner yesterday when Unilever admitted it was no longer supporting the brand with advertising and was including a £57m once-and- for-all write-off in its annual accounts for unwanted stock of the product.

Some in-store promotions still exist for the ill-starred detergent but all important advertising support such as television and press campaigns have been cut. Industry observers feel the move signals the product's death knell. "It's pretty clear, Persil Power is dead," one analyst said.

Speaking at the company's annual results meeting in London yesterday, Sir Michael Perry, chairman, admitted the episode had been a disaster. "It is the greatest marketing set-back we've seen," he said. "Something was clearly not noticed somewhere but the key is that we don't make these mistakes again." Lessons had been learned and internal processes reviewed. He denied that there would be management changes as a result.

Sir Michael also denied that the removal of promotional support represented a tactical withdrawal for the product. "If the consumer wants it, it will be on sale," he said. However, the company is throwing its notorious marketing weight behind its new baby, Persil New Generation. Most of the £20m Unilever is spending on the Persil brand this year will be targeted at New Generation Persil, a new "everyday wash" washing powder that is reaching supermarket shelves now.

The company said that the controversy over the merits of Persil Power had been centred on Britain and that the product was popular in other European countries such as France.

The removal of support for Persil Power delivers a big boost to rival Procter and Gamble, makers of the Ariel product, in the so-called soap wars. However, with victory in its sights P&G suddenly became coy yesterday. "We would prefer not to comment," a spokesman said. "Our concern was always that the public should be aware of our concerns over this product."

The withdrawal of advertising support is the latest in a succession of announcements that have made Persil Power's future increasingly uncertain.

Earlier this month, a report from the Consumers Association said that even the reformulated Persil Power detergent caused damage to clothes after frequent washing.

Last month Sainsburys, Tesco and Waitrose said they were removing the product from their shelves to clear the way for New Generation.

Unilever looks East, page 34

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