Washing up liquid – will the advertising wash?

Ecover washing up liquidThe creative students of SCA Brixton were developing advertising about washing up liquid. Choice of 3 brands.  Fairy Liquid – the market leader and doughty performer. Persil the brand using emotion to connect with their customers. And Ecover gamely working to disrupt the sector in the mainstream. I am falling behind. Since these briefs based on Dave Trott’s binary brief are being given to the students at 2 week intervals so there is a ton of propositions and ads to review. But the work rate even from these inexperienced creatives is instructive since almost no agencies have the luxury of 6-7 teams working on a brand. And here there are 3 times as many. Paul Feldwick memorably said that until he had a piece of advertising in his hands it was hard to make sense of it.  You don’t crack communications problems at the briefing stage. The point of a good brief is to get the creatives to do interesting work.  So here are a few reflections.

The binary brief route I had identified for detergents is coded BBB after the 3 questions: Established brand reselling to existing customers using a brand benefit. Which kinda works for all of them.

What are the languages around advertising washing up liquid?

Fairy is in some ways the easiest to execute because the brand is such a bruiser, the product is effective. They have been saying it for decades and your mum would approve.  But that means that it is so easy to get the ball on the green that you end up with quite a lot of good work but nothing insanely great.

Fairy Liquid washing up liquidPersil washing up liquidPersil brought some interesting approaches. They are using limited edition fragrances to tart up was is a dull job. There were approaches about mindfulness and who you washed up with.  There was one about the smell of new mothers and the detergent not masking her scent that I thought was really powerful.  But it was a reminder that the most powerful work isn’t necessarily the one with brio that is an obvious award winner.  Sometimes the advertising has to get out of the way and let the insight weave its magic spell. And that is what worked best for me from the work I saw.

Ecover was perhaps the most difficult. Because it is easy to come up with environmental flagellation. Ecover has no problem appealing to extremists. But the faithful is not where they want to make their mark, but with the mainstream. And something as mundane and familiar as a washing up liquid should not be making your regular user feel guilty (or for that matter smug). It is a really tricky balance.  So several of the routes went straight into the sandtrap of shrill denunciations of corporate greed. Don’t get me wrong. It is work that stands out. But probably just gets looked at and blocked.  Any softer a route would turn into greenwash and get ignored.

The one route which did get my attention started with a provocative headline about us poisoning the oceans. Offset by gorgeous art direction. If WE referred to Ecover I would say that was an own goal. If WE referred to all the detergent brands and Ecover was the good guy it was shall we say predictable?   If we referred to a whole society bent on flushing the environment with chemicals to stay at ease with itself and Ecover was offering a way back to sanity – that could be an interesting way forward. But here’s the thing. This route picked its way into an out of the sandtrap. It didn’t try to avoid it.

Advertising needs to tackle the dark side head on – this takes time!

One of the hallmarks of advertising that we remember and even love is that it takes the dark side, the sand-traps and works with them. It doesn’t whitewash them. But it takes time for teams to find their way out of the bunkers. And plannings job is to help them map the difficult territory. If you are turning campaigns around in a few days you won’t have time to do this work. These youngsters had a fortnight. Time well spent I would suggest.


Designed by Matthew Pattman