Unilever powers into soap battle

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THINGS are getting dirty in the soap wars. Just a week after Procter & Gamble launched an aggressive campaign supporting its washing powder Ariel Ultra, Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch household products group, has responded, writes Nigel Cope.

This weekend the group's Lever Brothers subsidiary launches a national campaign to protect its controversial Persil Power powder, which Procter said rotted clothes after frequent washing.

Advertisements appearing in newspapers today say: 'We always knew it would start a washing revolution. We just didn't expect it to start a war.' Underneath is a picture of a woman holding a viscose blouse.

'The only holes in it are the ones where you put your arms,' Lever Brothers says.

Another advertisement to appear tomorrow shows a bag of Persil Power next to a bag marked 'Leading Ultra'. 'Which one should you put your shirt on?' asks the caption.

Lever Bros is spending pounds 300,000 on the campaign and says it may switch further funds from other campaigns.

A spokesman said: 'We do not see it as knocking copy. We are talking about our own product.'

The rival Procter campaign compared shredded clothes washed in powder with an accelerator - a clear reference to Persil Power - with clothes washed in Ariel Ultra.

The advertising war follows figures issued last month by Nielsen, the market research group, which showed that Persil Power's market share had fallen from 4.5 per cent to 3 per cent since June. By contrast sales of Ariel Ultra had risen from 4 per cent to 6 per cent.

Lever Brothers says the fall is nothing more than the normal tailing off after a new launch.