02/28/2007, Düsseldorf / Germany

 

100 Years of Persil – a Piece of Advertising History

 

 
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Name Marion Schwenker
  Corporate Communications
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Of sky-writers, red bows and major emotions

In 1907, manufacturer and branding pioneer Fritz Henkel launched Persil onto the market as one of the very first ever branded consumer products. And he backed up his quality creation with some pretty heavy advertising in an attempt to win that all-important consumer trust. Right from the start, Henkel used not only billboards but also a range of creative ideas in what experts today term “promotions”. As a result, the Persil brand wrote a piece of advertising history.

The Henkel company has always been a great proponent of creative advertising. It all began with a newspaper announcement that today’s specialists would term a “teaser”. Even before the first packet of Persil was delivered to the shops, Henkel cleverly kindled consumer curiosity. The sensational promise read: “Dazzling white washing” achieved with a “single, effortless boil,” i.e. without the usual energy and time-consuming scrubbing and bleaching. The Henkel advertising experts of the time guessed that many consumers would initially be skeptical. So, from 1908 onward, an unlimited manufacturer’s guarantee was introduced in order to overcome those lingering doubts: “We will compensate for any damage which is proven to have been caused by Persil, even when incorrectly used,” read the promise. In the stores, this innovative product also stood out visually from the other goods. Persil was not available for sale as a loose powder, as was the case with other detergents. Instead, it could only be purchased packed in a box showing that unmistakable trademark.

A brand in the sky
Henkel often took an unconventional and even spectacular approach to advertising. For example, 1908 saw white-clad gentlemen with Persil parasols strolling through Berlin – a campaign that even earned a few paragraphs in the newspapers. Attention was also drawn to the product by presentations which again might have been called “walking acts”: men dressed as Persil packets ambling along the streets. The brand advertisers were happy both to experiment and utilize new advertising media – such as sky-writing or night-time light projections onto clouds. In 1924, Henkel presented its first silent film, and just three years later the first radio ad. The brand was also, of course, grabbing attention with its classic poster and billboard advertising campaign – with a Persil personification who even today enjoys the status of classic icon: The White Lady. She was designed in 1922 by Berlin artist Kurt Heiligenstaedt and, adapted to contemporary tastes as time past, she continued to advertise the laundry detergent on posters and enamel signs well into the 1960s.

Back to laundry school
Henkel invested in consumer advice as well as in advertising. Prospective purchasers were encouraged to say goodbye to their old habits. The slogan “Pauline, leave that scrubbing and rubbing alone” (in its German version of course) served to highlight the great advantage of this self-acting washing powder. Among other things, special instructions on gentle low-temperature washing were distributed under the Persil name. From 1924, female advisers also traveled through Germany, explaining how to correctly use the detergent. In 1928, Henkel and Oetker opened the first home care school in which housewives could learn everything they needed to know about home-making, housekeeping and, in particular, the modern laundry methods of the time.

The big screen
The interest generated by Henkel and Persil was also apparent from the success of an unusual advertising film: in 1932, a full-length feature “talkie” all about Persil celebrated its première in Berlin’s “Ufa-Palast” cinema. The title of the movie: “Wäsche Waschen Wohlergehen” [“Washing the Washing the Convenient Way”]. Over the following seven years, it was seen by around 30 million people. Cinema advertising such as this became ever more important for Henkel. By 1939, the company had produced ten short advertising films. During the war, Henkel had to cease its Persil production by order of the state. However, Henkel kept the brand prominent in people’s minds with educational films and further advertising.

Germany’s first TV commercial
The relaunch of Persil in 1950 was heralded with a major advertising campaign. Booming sales showed that the brand had retained the same consumer confidence right through the war years. Soon television became the most important communication medium. And fittingly, Germany’s first TV ad in 1956 was a Persil commercial – featuring the big-name stars of the time Beppo Brehm and Liesl Karlstadt. With time, the Persil advertising concepts for TV became the stuff of legends. For example, the ads with “Persil Man” which ran from 1975. In this series, Henkel adopted a news style as a vehicle to provide information on such aspects as washload yield, laundry power and protective care. The high performance available with Persil was evidenced with scientific fact. And the slogan adopted at the time still today has a certain resonance in Germany: “Persil – da weiß man, was man hat” [“You know where you are with Persil”]. The 1970s also saw the launch of the “Our Best” campaign, the most successful laundry and home care promotion run ever seen in Germany. Since that time, Henkel has regularly offered special-sized packs sporting a red bow. These are only available for a brief period per annual campaign. And, since the year 2000, the TV commercials featuring this special offer have shown the Brandenburg Gate wrapped in a big red bow.

Pearls of wisdom
In the 1980s, a new issue came to the fore: environmental protection. In promotion campaigns and advertising, consumer attention was drawn, through Persil, to such matters as how much detergent should actually be used per wash. In 1986, the first phosphate-free detergent was launched under the brand as the “Best Persil for Laundry and the Environment”. The entire product family grew faster than ever before. Among the classics that newly appeared onto the market were Megaperls, Gel and Tabs. In its communication activities, Henkel focused on the key features of outstanding cleanliness and environmental compatibility. The biggest campaign up to that time was launched with the introduction of the bead form, Persil Megaperls, in 1994. “Pearls instead of Powder” was the instantly recallable slogan. Print, radio and TV advertising plus millions of free samples ensured that, within three months, the average consumer had been informed about the product 75 times.

Image loaded with emotion
This successful market launch brought Persil numerous awards – such as the “Most Trusted Brand” from Reader’s Digest or recognition as one of Germany’s “Best Brands” by market researchers GfK Group. Another band of market researchers, those of Germany’s Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach, described the premium brand as follows (freely translated): “Persil combines laundry power, outstanding quality and modernity. Yet Persil has enough tradition behind it for familiarity to forever breed content. This mixture of high performance and down-to-earthness is no contradiction. Rather, it defines the unique brand image of Persil.” In 2007, with Persil celebrating its centennial, the advertising is being very much aligned to the major emotions – love, reliability and friendship all loom large in the multi-media campaign. Thomas Tönnesmann, Head of Marketing at Henkel Wasch- und Reinigungsmit¬tel GmbH, explains the campaign message thus: “For the last 100 years, Persil has been a constant consumer companion, offering comfort, security, reliability and familiarity – that’s what it stands for now and that’s what it will stand for into the future.”

"100 Years of Persil – Pure into the future". In 2007, Henkel’s most successful and innovative brand is celebrating its centennial anniversary. It was first launched in 1907 as the world’s first self-acting detergent. Today it is Germany’s most popular laundry detergent, accounting for 1.3 billion washloads per year, and the first choice for millions of households right around the globe.