Media: Creative impulse

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Would you swap old generic detergent advertising for a new approach?

After years of doorstep challenges, "experts" in white coats and women holding their sheets up to the kitchen window, J Walter Thompson has come up with a 50-second blockbuster ad for Persil to promote the manufacturer's new "stain release system" using a series of visual metaphors.

One scene shows a white-clad skater racing ahead of his black-suited competitors, and another features a dalmatian shaking off his black spots as if they were droplets of water. The commercial, launched last week, will also be screened as 30- and 10-second cut-downs.

The client: Lever Brothers

Julie Sawyer, external relations manager

We were looking to develop an advertising campaign for the actual Persil brand, as opposed to promoting variants in the Persil family. This was definitely a launch film for the brand, but at the same time we didn't want to patronise people - a criticism which has been levelled at generic washing-powder advertising in the past. We were looking for a new way of saying "new improved", and wanted to bring a bit of interest to a category consumers generally find dull - to evoke a sense of pleasure in cleanness.

The agency: J Walter Thompson

Jaspar Shelbourne, executive creative director

There's a bigger issue here than "that's a nice ad". We feel this ad is big enough to partially redefine a category because detergent advertising has been formulaic for a long time. Brands have stuck with a straitjacket- oriented formula, and the market has been dominated for years by the Unilever approach versus the Proctor and Gamble approach. Advertisers have either showcased the mother and family values, or have gone for shots of detritus floating off J-cloths.

Unilever has always been good at speaking to consumers, but detergent ads still never seemed to change. They have recently learned, though, that the British housewife is more capable of understanding advertisers' messages than was previously thought: in the past, she'd been spoken to as if she was about eight years old. With Persil having learnt this, we went to work on a new kind of detergent advert, specifically to highlight the "stain release system".

The theme is separating dirt from clean, using intrusively interesting visual metaphors to express it - why shouldn't the British housewife understand metaphor? We feel this is an extremely refreshing way to talk to our target audience - which is still the housewife, or whoever the main buyer of washing powder is in the household - and is an exercise in the fundamentals of the way advertising works. We've asked ourselves: is it intrusive? Is it cogent? Are the qualities of the product reflected in the quality of the film? I think the answer to all these questions is "yes".