By Hannah Bowler, Senior Reporter

April 17, 2024 | 6 min read

Washing detergent marketing has historically been functional and aimed at families, but newsflash: it’s not only parents who wash clothes. Unilever’s vice-president of marketing shares how it is using its latest innovation to freshen up laundry marketing.

Unilever brand Persil has ambitious plans to modernize its image and marketing with a new detergent, Wonder Wash, as it looks to appeal to more households.

We’ve all seen the classic laundry advert: the kid plays around in the dirt, the parent puts the dirty clothes in the wash and the detergent turns the clothes back to white. Oh, and the parent randomly sniffs the garments. It’s a textbook formula that has worked for Unilever’s laundry business for years.

For its latest innovation, a quick-cycle detergent, Persil has broken with convention and tapped Usain Bolt for a humorous spot that doesn’t show dirty clothes and only a quick glimpse of a washing machine.

But Tati Lindenberg, Unilever’s vice-president of marketing for Dirt is Good, tells The Drum this isn’t just about one product launch. Instead, she says: “It is a way for us to also modernize the whole brand image. It will allow us to have more freedom in our marketing.”

The Wonder Wash detergent has a different look and feel from the rest of Persil’s products. The bottle is transparent, the liquid has “jazzy colors” and the label and logo have been made bolder.

Wonder Wash was developed to help Unilever sell to more households by creating a product aimed at the washing habits of city dwellers. Its research showed that people who live in cities tend to do shorter washes, says Lindenberg. “Wonder Wash is a way in which we can target households and consumer cohorts that we do not have the same penetration as we have with, for instance, families with children and the older population.”

Historically, a Persil media plan would be 80% TV and 20% in-store, but for Wonder Wash, 55% of the plan is TV and the rest will be digital and social, which is a significant reduction.

In the UK, Unilever has partnered with 200 influencers, primarily clean-fluencers, and is tapping into #CleanTok. This is the first time Unilever’s laundry business has been able to run a large-scale influencer campaign because creating laundry content has proved challenging.

It is easier to show surfaces being cleaned than someone putting their clothes in the wash and waiting an hour to take them out and put them away. “Asking the influencer to show a laundry product was quite complex and not very natural,” says Lindenberg. “Influencers couldn’t create a lot of content and we also couldn’t help them to create it.”

For Wonder Wash, though, with its 15-minute wash cycle, Persil set a challenge to the influencers to see what they can get done within the wash time. “If we can make it a little bit more fun and attractive to this audience, suddenly the process of how to do laundry becomes more exciting.”

As well as targeting younger people through the media plan, Unilever is putting more of the product on e-commerce sites including Amazon and Ocado.

Looking outside the category

It’s Lindenberg’s ambition to make Persil more of a “lifestyle” brand. To do that, she is forging partnerships with entertainment companies. “We thought a lot about what type of entertainment and considered partnering with the likes of Netflix, for instance.”

But the team landed on sports because it’s a place where Persil can show the performance of the products. “Sports will modernize the brand by targeting multiple audiences, creates more engagement and it allows us to show the performance of the product – it kills three birds with one stone.”

This strategy kicked off earlier this month with a campaign in collaboration with Arsenal football club, which sees the autograph of Bukayo Saka cleaned off a kid’s shirt after it was washed with Persil. The story follows the girl on a mission to find Saka to get a new autograph. The ad is more emotional and cinematic than Persil’s typical marketing and Lindenberg says that she was aiming for a John Lewis Christmas-style campaign.

“I’ve challenged myself and my team to think differently and to look for references outside of the laundry category.”

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Lindenberg says the strategy pivot has “required different thinking in terms of agency partners,” bringing in the PR agency Golin for press and Edelman to work alongside longtime agency partner MullenLowe.

“It’s helping us to see how far we can stretch the brand. Now our future communications can have a nod or reference to performance, and also a way to stretch Dirt is Good beyond kids.”

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