When plastic flowers ruled the earth

BUNHILL

DO YOU remember the plastic daffodils? If you do, you were a sentient being 35 years ago. If you collected them, you were probably also a housewife and were thus part of one of the most successful soap powder promotions ever run. You were, by the way, a Persil user.

Len Hardy was chairman of Lever Brothers during the 1960s and 1970s, and was intimately involved in the endless soap powder wars between Lever and Procter & Gamble. He has written a book called Ten Golden Rules: Business Management Strategy (Windrush Books, pounds 15.99), which does not mention daffodils. But when bullied last week, he was prepared to reminisce about the great days of plastic flora.

Lever had millions of daffodils and tulips made in the Far East, and told shopkeepers to give one away with each pack of Persil. "Some people laughed at us," Mr Hardy says. "But many others lived in the middle of industrial cities, and would hardly ever see flowers. The promotion also had the great attraction that customers would come back time and again to collect a bunch."

Nowadays, he says, supermarkets would refuse to fiddle around with plastic flowers - but soap-powder marketing has otherwise changed remarkably little. "You had to get to the woman in Wigan," he says. "We'd always tell our advertising people not to produce ads that pleased their mates from college." That is why soap promotions were always straightforward - whether they involved free rail tickets or Persil girls knocking on doors and giving prizes to people who had a packet tucked away. It is also why telly ads featuring Leslie Crowther in a supermarket lasted so long. I knew there must be a reason.

Remarkably for a marketing man, Mr Hardy insists that clever selling is not enough - he has great faith in the housewife's ability to spot whether a soap powder really is better. And yes, it still is a housewife - Lever's research continues to show that very few men have ever bought the family Persil.

A FEW years ago, the papers carried a picture of an angry demonstration in Washington DC - not a million black men, but a few dozen white men in suits: they were protesting against high government spending. I was gobsmacked. It was a truth universally acknowledged that you demonstrated in Britain to make the government spend more, not less.

This gap between the American and British mentalities is yawning ever wider. If you want proof, rush to your newsagent and buy a copy of the Nashville Business Journal. This has a section called "Debtwatch", which allows anxious Country and Western singers to keep up to date on the government's spending folly. My latest information is a little out-of-date, but things didn't look good in early September. The public debt was $4,955,603,000,000 on 6 September, which was some $285,497,000,000 more than a year before. To the barricades, and God help America!

Hair apparent

BUT at least America continues to civilise the known world. St Petersburg now has its own hair transplant clinic, thanks to the US company Neva- Hudson. According to the St Petersburg Times, it will cost $100,000 (pounds 64,000) and will have two American-trained local doctors. Just what Russia needs most, I should say.

NEXT May, Rupert Murdoch will be worrying about frozen assets in his television business. Bill Gates is going to have problems with the media. And Tony Blair will win the next election. I know all this because I have been reading Financial Astrology, a newsletter published in Hong Kong that tells you how to make a lot of money.

By staring at the star charts, the newsletter's editors have come up with some quite specific predictions. A significant entertainment venture will be set up in China or Thailand next month. The US stock market is going to fall sharply in December, but the Shanghai's index is on its way up, and if you want a nice strong currency, try the Irish punt.

Financial Astrology says the forecasts made in its last issue were 82.5 per cent correct, and who am I to doubt it? But if you want to run a little test, see who wins the Quebec separation vote. The stars say the Quebeckers will say bye-bye to Canada - if they do, it might just be worth piling into the Shanghai market or picking up some punts.

Lack of purchase

THE BBC's procurement department - or the Centre of Purchasing Excellence as it describes itself - has sent a wonderfully elaborate brochure round to other bits of the corporation. It has all the trimmings of modern-day management speak, including a section headed "policy". The policy has eight points, telling the readers what the department does. These include "development of best procurement practice", "purchasing performance reviews" and "supplier profiling". Nowhere, however, does it say that it buys things. Maybe it doesn't. Bizarre.

TSK - I hear some of the people at the publisher Euromoney were upset that I reported a kettle confiscated because it used too much electricity. Well I am delighted to show my even-handedness by pointing out that Euromoney has been selected by Forbes magazine as one of the 100 best small companies in the world. Hurrah - I am absolutely certain the accolade is well deserved.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there