Dirt really is good

Image courtesy of LalliSig

Poor old Dirt is Good.

Everyone is turning against it – especially in the planning fraternity.

And why? Well it stands accused of the most heinous crime – it doesn’t work.

It may have strategist’s hearts a flutter but it is not shifting detergent – certainly in the UK.

Well I want to ride to it’s rescue and suggest the problem is squarely with the advertising. Not the executions but the role advertising is being asked, or has elected, to perform.

And I want to round off with the contention that ‘advertising is the new below the line’.

The latest barrage against Dirt is Good (DiG) came from the legendary Charlie Snow, planning director of the singing agency DLKW.
In an article for Marketing Magazine in the UK he wrote:

“I’m starting to build real doubts about the whole campaign. The evidence is stacking up against it. In all the research groups I’ve attended across the country in the past few years, I’ve certainly never heard anyone mention the fantastic Dirt is Good campaign. The brand’s cut-through is being questioned, and if the share figures are to be believed, both value and volume have hit spin cycle”

Sales of Persil are in decline in the UK, on this very blog John Lowery has quoted a volume share decrease from 26.6% to 21.8% and a value decrease from 26.8% to 23.3%, over the last three years. And few planners have evidence of people taking this idea to their hearts out there in consumer land.
Surely it is time for Persil and Omo to ditch the dirt.
Well, I’m not such a fair weather friend of DiG – I still think that it is a wonderful strategy.
The Unilever website tells us that “The campaign was created to communicate the Persil brand’s philosophy that children should be given the freedom to be creative – which leads to their learning and development – without worrying about getting dirty.”
And as a parent of two pre-schoolers that is spot on for me. I know I need to let them get messier but that my overwhelming parental instinct is to minimise mess. So I want Persil to succeed – for me and my childrens’ sake.
That is why I remain rock solid behind the strategic intent of Persil/Omo, it is the advertising I want to question.
Much has been made of the deficiencies of the creative work on DiG.
While it has got considerably better in its new home at BBH, in the past it has been overly dependent on a vignette style of advertising, which is what you do when you can’t think of a creative idea. While I can’t help feeling that the ads have lacked real emotional depth and so don’t find their mark in the customer’s heart – in other words the emotion is all on the screen not in the viewer. Still more evidence comes form the difficulty in finding the work online – its not exactly the toast of you tube.
But I’m not sure that a big brand film is what the TV should be doing for Persil.
All to often the temptation with TV is to provide a window on the whole brand idea. After all isn’t that the heritage of great and hugely successful TV advertising, like CDP’s classic Hovis?
But in a communications landscape that offers so many more ways and places for brands and people to engage in dialogue, TV may not always be the best medium in which to do the brand thing.
I would argue that the other stuff that Persi/Omo does, online and in people’s lives are both better executed and better ways to make an idea like this come to life. There is the wonderful unitedkingdomofdirt microsite (with its 30 things to do before you are 10), a Corporate Social Responsibility programme built out of DiG, tightly knitted in promotions like the splat balls and a PR machine turning out stuff on play malnutrition. It is in these places that the DiG idea finds its most involving expression, not the TV ads.
So what I am really questioning is the role that the advertising has been given to deliver. Maybe it should be used in a far more focused way than dramatising the brand idea. And maybe in doing this Persil and its agency would start to resolve some of the concerns about efficacy. And I think the focus for advertising should be on the brand’s promise.
You see, in my model of problem, position, promise and brand idea – the one I have been peddling ad nauseam, there is not only a requirement for the brand to have a point of view but for it to deliver a promise as well. This proves to the consumer that the brand is doing something about its position. And the reality is that while Persil delivers the position in spades in its advertising, the promise (that no matter how dirty they get Persil will get them clean again time after time) remains tacit and unsaid.
I know that focusing the advertising on the efficacy story doesn’t sound sexy and will have creatives sobbing into their lattes but these days we have to be more disciplined about the tasks each communications discipline is asked to undertake.
And in this case I think advertising’s job is too sell while other’s build the DiG brand world.
And isn’t that interesting. As a commerical endevour advertising’s primary responsibility will always be to sell – whether immediately or over the long term. So maybe we will see advertising swapping places with some of the other disciplines (especially a brand’s online experience) and take on a traditionally below-the-line mantle. In other words advertising will be at the sharp end of sales and digital, promotions, and PR doing the brand thing.
Just because there is a little confusion over the precise role for advertising on Persil, that may be causing a sub optimal performance, doesn’t mean the idea is wrong and Unilever should just walk away from it as many of DiG’s detrators seem to suggest.
Or are we saying that a strategy is only as good as the work the present agency of choice is able to rustle up?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

18 Replies to “Dirt really is good”

  1. Agreed on the strategy/execution point. In my naive world, the strategy should come from the client (indeed it should inhabit every pore of the organisation) and the various creative organisations should create executions of it.
    DIG is not a bad strategy once you understand what it is but the trouble for me is that, until I started discussing it with the plannersphere, I didn’t get it and I’m not sure that the public does. For them, even within the context of washing powder/liquid advertising, dirt isn’t good, it’s a pain in the arse because it involves doing more washing etc. The reaction therefore is, I fear, ” huh” or worse still, “what a stupid ad”.
    If they heard “dirt isn’t bad” or “kids + dirt = fun” or “kids get dirty, it’s their job” then I think the comprehension might be greater and the good thinking behind the strategy might have abetter chance of breathing. But I’m not an ad guy so what do I know?
    On the below the line argument, I’m less convinced. As we’ve agreed before, all marketing has to be about “selling” in some sense, so I would ascribe a definite “selling” element to “the brand thing” as well as to direct communication.
    It’s not about being above or below the line (which I always saw as something of a intra-industry status delineator anyway), isn’t it just that the line has disappeared?

  2. Great post. And I do agree with your comments—as I had to search to find what Persil actually was. The idea and message behind the campaign is great, but if I were to follow it’s message I don’t know if I would choose Persil over my detergent.

  3. First of all, that’s an absolutely brilliant picture.
    The overall role of ‘advertising’ as a medium (encompassing more than just TV) will always remain the same for me – being efficient & dramatising can sit side by side.
    However, the use of TV advertising as a leader to other channels will precipitate far more focused thinking when TV is used as the trigger for the bigger brand idea.
    In fact – that’s what TV advertising will, I think, become. Far from flashing a URL on screen (as some brands have been doing, tremendously clumsily), as the historians say – it will become a ‘trigger cause’ to other types of communication.
    This will, I hope, help get rid of sloppy dramatisations.

  4. Great points.
    I LOVE what you’ve proposed about flipping the “roles” of advertising and digital. Not that far off of a prediction from where I sit.
    P.S. There’s an argument to be made that truly effective advertising has to have those who think the ad is “bad”.

  5. This is a great extension of your four bubbles model and raises even more questions — if you place consumers at the gravitational core of the four bubbles, what happens as the bubbles begin to merge venn-diagram style? Then, changing that around, what happens if strategy is placed at the same gravitational core?
    Perhaps on one hand you end up with TV as the “trigger cause” as Will suggests. But on the other, there will be a deeper and ongoing questioning about channels and their effectiveness (and the choice of channel for particular focus — eg choosing TVCs for brand promise). And as this shift occurs we will need better and more standardised methods for measuring effectiveness.
    More to think about! But you are being very provocative lately!

  6. All I know is that TV advertising (and I mean ads on TV not the distribution of moving image by other means)is damn expensive. Perhaps not as expensive as it once was but still damn expensive.
    Seems to me its most powerful role is as the shock troops of the comms landscape – in and out but boy do you know you have seen it. And it has to be aggressively commerical.

  7. I like your last line.
    “Or are we saying that a strategy is only as good as the work the present agency of choice is able to rustle up?
    In this case study, the communications strategy has been let down by the creative execution..
    Internet penetration is highest among A-C1s; those in work…and consequentely, lowest among females. So she is either going to be too busy with work and parenthood to embark on the digital journey of why DiG or the interent simply isn’t top of mind for a commodity product..
    So all those great reasons to believe are fine, but they are merely supports, extra’s. In other words, great at enhancing the product/brand proposition should the audience have the inclination/time to delve deeper!
    So whilst the TV ads tell us that dirt is good and valuable to the well-being of children, it doesn’t actually provide the reassurance that Persil will clean their clothes after the playful mess has been created. And in that very moment, the execution fails; the balance between the practical requirements and long term emotional gain is biased.
    The problem in this scenario, is to return clothes to their normal acceptable state…Not how to ensure my child has a productive childhood. And this is exactly what the TV ads should have focused on.
    Had this approach been considered, the connection between ‘dirt is good’ and ‘clean clothes are even better’ could have been introduced on pack/in pack and of course supported with the PR, CSR, internet etc etc.

  8. Great post again, R.
    Maybe this knotty problem serves to reveals our obsession with messaging and ‘digital’ communication.
    For me it highlights the need to think about what behaviours we can deploy to make an idea sing (rather than just which channels to use, their relative merits, costs etc).
    And what behaviours we want the public to start/stop/increase (beyond just buying) as opposed to trying changing their minds…persuading them etc
    If you really wanted to make the p.o.v of Dirt is Good famous, what would the brand have to do? And what would we want them
    Granty’s Enthusiasm musings likely to be useful here…
    Good stuff

  9. agree with the role of advertising bit … it does kind of assume that everyone will see everything though

  10. I am a stickler for a well honed proposition. But if you want a ‘doing’ campaign rather than a ‘saying’ campaign you can do worse than writing a ‘role for communication’ only brief. In other words, instead of the proposition asking for a peice of communication that says dirt is good you have a task led brief that asks that we MAKE dirt good.

  11. Muck is Great!
    That one’s “on the house” if you credit me BIG somewhere.
    Seriously though, I’ve done the thinking on this one so follow this train (of thought) to the station (conclusion) of Bacon (ROI):
    1) People buy washing powder because their clothes are a disgrace.
    2) Therefore dirt ISN’T good but washing powder IS
    3) Persil is Good (PiG) is the logical conclusion.
    I’m not as strong on the creative as I am on INSIGHT, but my initial idea would be a picture of a filthy person (there are hundreds of them around, just look out the window) with the strapline:
    “Persil can DEFINITELY get rid of this crap (PiG)”
    That’s what I call a doing AND done campaign. Work’s over! Make mine a ‘jee and tea’!

  12. I guess the whole DIG strategy is a good one from a creative point of view and appeals to creative types, but, if you are going to use a strategy as creatively cute as this then you had better have a bloody good product that backs it up.
    Has anyone ever tried it out? I have. As sad as it may sound, (just curious rather than sad) I tested Persil, a supermarket own and a cheap frills one on 3 new white tee shirts. Washed them all separately with no other stuff in the drum (not natural thing to do but to give an equal footing to all) and all on the same settings.
    Result: The Persil one was the worst out of the three. The best was the cheapest. Why? I don’t know – more bleach or chemicals may actually be worse to clothing after long periods of use, again, I don’t know.
    The point is and I feel that this strategy is just not commercial and as such fails because of it.
    Look around. Most mums do everything they can to keep their kids clean and if their washing pile is as big as the one in our house then I can understand why.
    Kids clothing is expensive these days, almost if not more than clothing for adults and who would want their kids to ruin the clothes? You may as well chuck the money down the drain???
    Seriously ask yourselves, what mother is going to let their kid get covered in shite with their £100 lacoste tracksuits and timberland boots in bootle liverpool. Would anyone go out and play sunday football in an armani suit?
    Don’t get me wrong, creative freedom and expression is good but lets switch to art. Kid wants to finger paint firts thing i would do would be to use a plastic apron or some old clothes that you wouldn’t mind if they got dirty, this is common sense and widley practiced.
    Anyway, washing clothes is a chore and I don’t know anyone who enjoys it. Perhaps if strategies were based on ‘time saving initiatives for mums’ or make-washing-a-fun-activity in some way (now there’s a challenge) then maybe, just maybe they would shift more product?
    I wonder what has happened in the world of advertising, it seems that the only experimentation these days is for creativity sake and to suit the agency creative agenda. I have always thought and live by rule number one: be commercial but in the most creative and engaging way possible! not the other way round.
    Managing the tension between art and commerce? maybe the elastic has snapped?

  13. Warning : planner-working-in-PR-bias-mode engaged.
    Perhaps what is very good about the DiG strategy is it’s potential as a tipping point (Malcolm Gladwell) or mass behaviour changing (Mark Earls and his Herd) nature. {Mark – you are in a new Pantheon!}
    As John Lowery points out, your mass mums don’t give two hoots about dirt and play; it is only the chattering/middle classes who relate to this. And it is only very specialist child psychologists/social commentators who are truly worked up about it.
    But is this not how social trends happen?
    As a parelell the middle classes have been obsessing about their children’s diets and weights for some time now and giving McDonalds a right bashing as a result. Jamie Oliver is a late entrant to this trend but definitely helping it “tip” into being a majority view in recent years.
    As evidence if you look at the tabloids a current favourite is “Britain’s fattest kid” pictures. So we have a middle class point of view (obesity is bad), supported by technical experts that is about to become embraced by “ordinary mums” (perhaps).
    And so could DiG follow the same trajectory? A bunch of geeks/experts/mavens (including planners) find their idea taken up by an advocate (Persil) who recruits a bunch of noisy connectors (Middle Class mums) who after a year or two, find the mass media picking up on their behaviour and thus influencing the “ordinary mums” who (as a Earles-esque “herd”) find themselves all strangely drawn to this zeitgeisty Persil brand.
    Thing about this model is you wouldn’t do mass-advertising at the front end at all. You’d wait until your opinion formers were up and running first. But I am an advertising apostate these days, so i might say that. Excommunicate me if it helps keep your internal belief system intact.
    Anyhow – this explanantion also helps us planners get round the class self-loathing that is tickled by Lowery’s observation that “we” all like it but the people in groups don’t. Perhaps we’re right and they will all come to imitate our splendid middle class child rearing ideas.
    Until then, let them eat Ariel.

  14. Has anyone seen the Sunlight work from Canada? It preceded the Persil work by some years (think it was 2003 or 4) – and I’d be amazed if it wasn’t the inspiration behind it. The proposition was ‘Sunlight is an invitation to get dirty’. Brilliant. It highlights the power of the product in a way that the Persil work doesn’t. Persil celebrates dirt, Sunlight celebrated its cleaning powers.
    Charming work and a better thought.

  15. You are sleep deprived, working a job as well as being a mother. Your day is filled with important choices and correspondent anxieties. A commercial comes onto the box when you’ve found a minute for a breather and a cup of tea;…Dirt is Good. The tea shoots out your nose in a spray of indignation.
    a) Give me a break, you’ve duped me into watching a daft vignette,Lord of the Flies meets Logan’s Run, then pulled the rug out with a tenuous premise and,
    b) who do you think you are? You manufacture soap powder. Don’t moralise to me about play and create the ludicrous link to dirt being an essential component of a healthy, decent childhood. It may be true, but it is not for you to say. I feel guilty enough as it is about the fact that my kids don’t grow up in the same freewheeling carefree world that I did, unsupervised in parks and on beaches (growing up in New Zealand is something I recommend to all children), but now there is the looming threat of stranger danger, a gigantic hole in the ozone and the pressure to whisk the kids from one activity to another…just get real and get lost. The last thing I need is to be reminded of my parenting lack and limitations of 21st Century life.
    Must dash, it’s 11pm and I’ve a got a pile of ironing to do…

Comments are closed.