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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee