Dirt is good


I took part in a panel discussion at the IAA European Advertising summit this week along with Jim Carrol and Rita Clifton and chaired by the great John Grant (who gave me a copy of his excellent new book ‘The Innovation Manifesto’). We had to talk about our favourite European campaign. I chose Persil’s ‘Dirt is good’ despite the tragic creative work in the UK. I feel that this bit of thinking really hasn’t had the fame that it deserves which saddens me. This is the kind of thing that I said.
Image courtesy of KoAn

I have chosen this ‘Dirt is Good’ for Persil in order to be deliberately contrary.
I hate the ads. They are cheesy, trite, woefully lacking in any insight and horror of horrors they are by and large vignette ads. As we all know vignette ads are what creative teams wheel out when they can’t think of an idea.
But I love the strategy.
Planners like me get proposition envy when we come across thinking that we wish we had come up with. And this campaign makes me feel sick with proposition envy.
It also neatly illustrates a number of themes I am currently warming myself on.
This is a category that for decades has been seemingly incapable of creating communications with anything interesting to say. Against this backdrop of whites being washed whiter and brands with a new kind of bluey whiteness Persil decides that the arch enemy of detergent advertising throughout the twentieth century is actually its best mate. And ours too.
Persil believes that dirt – providing that you can effectively eradicate it at the end of the day – is a wonderful thing, evidence of creativity, adventure, exploration, endeavour and curiosity.
If we believe that markets are increasingly conversations then I maintain that every brand needs an opinion because opinions are the lifeblood of all conversation. And this is a full on brand opinion – evidence of a brand talking about its position not just its positioning.
And while it hasn’t yielded very good advertising in the UK, dirt is good has had a sensational effect on the other parts of the communications mix and informs every part of Persil’s conversation with its customers.
As part of its brilliant online presence Persil hosts the ‘United kingdom of dirt’ (accessible through the link to the main dirt is good site) where the activity of the month is currently hunting for worms
Persil’s sales promotion activity is built around dirt is good – at the moment you can collect proofs of purchase for school art materials.
It works in PR with specially commissioned research into play malnutrition that suggests that child development is now at risk because of the decline in messy play.
And it even extends to Corporate Social Responsibility where Persil works with organisations like British Cycling and Learning through Landscapes to promote outdoor play and leisure.
This thinking is a work of mild genius and I love it.
Yet more proof to me that there is no such thing as a low interest category only low interest thinking.

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6 Replies to “Dirt is good”

  1. Agreed, it’s a great strategy. The thing is, it isn’t entirely original. It was originally done for Sunlight, one of Unilever’s North American detergent brands, by their agency in Canada (the now defunct Ammurati Puris Lintas). They created the strategy “Sunlight is an invitation to get dirty” – which was expressed in the creative as “Go ahead, get dirty” – about 8 years ago. The campaign won the Grand Prix at the CASSIES (the Canadian effectiveness awards equivalent to the IPA or EFFIES) in 1999. The case study is here:
    And I didn’t have anything to do with it – just correcting the record.

  2. Thanks for the background Jason – interesting case study as well. I am not saying that the Persil thinking is original just very very good – if it was first created for Sunlight then that brand deserves my admiration too. I think what Persil/Omo have done that is clever is make it an global strategy and fully integrate it into the life of the brand.

  3. Agreed.
    It takes the idea away from “mum or dad washing messy clothes” to focusing on the human aspect of wearing and dirtying clothes. It suddenly gives a personal feel in a market full of performance related ideas.
    Its also selling a positive atmosphere, happiness in making a mess; as opposed to boredom of cleaning it up. It gives the whole brand a kind of ‘smile’ effect which I would anticipate will help when people are actually in the shop making a choice.

  4. Can’t disagree. Brilliant proposition that humanizes and injects passion into a commodity product.
    It’s not selling washing detergent anymore, but fond, warm memories!
    I credit the client for going with this and seeing the potential. Most other clients would fear being associated and embracing the one thing they are trying to solve..
    You could imagine an alternate conversation:
    MM: Dirt IS good…..
    CLIENT: Did I tell you we were reviewing agency arrangements!
    I would love to see how the insight behind this brief was dissected or perhaps how MB were able to get busy mothers with family commitments to reveal an inner likeness and fondness towards dirt thus justifying the proposition?

  5. It’s good to see clients brave enough to follow a decent piece of thinking, and to be willing to execute it in every imaginable way. And I feel that is the insight here.
    The thinking itself goes way back. I first heard it around 10 years ago at a planning seminar.
    The speaker was talking about how to get around strategic blocks, and using Audi as an example how great creative work came from an inversion of the proposition (invert ‘a car for independent minded people’ to ‘not a car for conventional thinkers’ … and you get the great yuppie ad).
    The discussion then turned to how this strategic sleight of hand could re-ignite a low interest category (re: another thread on here). The example used was Soap Powder with the speaker talking about how fantastic it would be to see Persil ‘invert’ clean into ‘not dirty’.
    The speaker? The same Jim Carrol that shared your platform …
    Small world isn’t it?
    BUT having said that, full marks to the planner for taking the fight to the market, full marks to the client and for the creatives for being loyal to it… getting the strategy is one thing, having the bloody mindedness to see it through is another thing entirely.

  6. I received this comment on an email while I was hiding from the spammers – I felt it was important to post it with the author’s permission.Is account handling dead from the waist up? I think not but let’s take the temperature out there.
    Comment begins
    As one who has left for pastures new but as yet
    unfound (who feeds at the old every now and then to pay some bills) I am fascinated by some of the
    comments on Dirt is Good.
    DIG has had a wide impact. I hear it mentioned in CSR circles (where I also spend time), in PR circles….and yes it is a planning idea. But your proposition envy cannot be applied to any planner. As the site showed the idea was not new.
    Yet, the person who slogged airmiles, guts, long
    hours, shrewd politics, patience, persistence, hard thinking, honesty, imagination and insight at getting this idea to come to life was a suit. OK, rather 2 or 3 suits(good and bad) and a good old-fashioned creative director.
    Planning was conspicuous by its absence, as the story was told to me pretty much first hand. But, the who did what, who came up with what is NOT the point of this mail.
    As I briefly touch down in the old pasture again I am struck by the weakness, the fear, the uncertainty, the pain and neurosis of account management.
    The point is, in the 80’s and early 90’s the fable of how a suit sold that idea would have been turned into fable overnight, up there with the Moray McLennan stories about the Silk Cut posters and the guy who climbed out the window to get his Client to buy the work.
    These days if account management is not being publicly disgraced on the front pages of the trade press then they are being made redundant before anyone else, whispering in corridors more than anyone else, with more incidence of job dissatisfaction, burnout and mistrust than anyone else. They are the ones apologising.
    Know of any account management blogs? (I’m serious – I can’t find any!)
    My question is this? (Sorry it’s several!) Should
    account management just be allowed to slide, to
    attract fewer of the best, to retain only the
    desperate ones, and to become the slapping boy of the communications industry? Should it migrate to project management? Is that all it ever really was? What happens to the production of great communications if it does?
    Planning is the new creative, the new black, the new groovy sexy creative thing. Everyone wants planners.
    Account Management was never at such a low. It’s the agencies’ dirty secret.
    In an era where planning is god do we need good suits? Some agencies are abandoning them.
    Or is there something more to account management?

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