LEVER BROS. TO ROLL OUT 2 NEW WISK PRODUCTS

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Lever Bros. will put a $125 million integrated marketing campaign behind new Wisk Away prewash stain remover and a Color-hold extension of Wisk detergent.

That is sharply increased marketing support for the No. 3 brand in the $4 billion U.S. detergent market, and coincides with a major detergent relaunch in Europe.

Unilever flagship Persil will be the recipient of a $40 million promotional campaign breaking in June in the U.K., the marketer's first step to regain lost market share-and marketing credibility-following its failed attempt to revolutionize the detergent market two years ago with a super-strength Power extension that contained a controversial ingredient.

DEBUTING THIS SPRING

In the U.S., the campaign for the new Wisk products breaking this spring includes print and TV advertising building on the "Don't risk it, Wisk it" tagline used for the brand since last year, said Ken Saunders, marketing director for Wisk.

The campaign, running through the fourth quarter, will include sampling, couponing and trade promotion. J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, is handling Wisk and the agency's London office is handling Persil.

Mr. Saunders wouldn't specify how spending would break down among Wisk products, but said it represents a significant increase from prior years. Lever spent $15.6 million for Wisk in measured media in 1995. That compares with $67 million for Procter & Gamble Co.'s category-leading Tide.

`WE'VE GOT IT RIGHT'

"We took a very serious look at our communications a couple of years ago," Mr. Saunders said. "Now we believe we've got it right, and our consumers are telling us we've got it right. Last year, we did start supporting our brand seriously, and this year is a continuation of that."

Earlier this year, Lever broke an unusual new ad campaign for its Surf detergent aimed at younger consumers (AA, Feb. 19).

The marketing infusion follows a year when Wisk lost ground to P&G's Tide and Cheer, the top two brands, and a more-concentrated Wisk liquid detergent was pulled from shelves after sales lagged. Wisk sales fell 1.1% last year to $310 million, according to Information Resources Inc.

Wisk Away will be rolled out nationally in the third quarter, beating Tide into the pre-soak segment.

Tide Treatments has been in test market in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, since last year, but P&G has no immediate plans to roll the product nationally, said R. Kerry Clark, president of P&G's U.S. Laundry & Cleaning Products unit.

EXTENSIVE `MICRO-TESTING'

Unilever has not formally test marketed Wisk Away, but conducted extensive "micro-testing," Mr. Saunders said.

The $196 million prewash category is only about 5% the size of the laundry detergents category and equals less than two-thirds of Wisk sales alone. But Mr. Saunders sees significant category growth potential from extending the Wisk brand.

"Wisk has a tremendous heritage of stain removal," he said, dating to the "Ring around the collar" ads of the 1960s. "And stain removal, when you talk to consumers, is the No. 1 unmet need in the marketplace."

Lever Bros. research found more than three quarters of consumers pre-treat laundry, but many use "home remedies" and only a third of consumers buy brands currently on the market.

NEW INGREDIENT PENETRON

Creative for Wisk Away wasn't available, but the package promotes Penetron as a new ingredient.

Of course, it was a "breakthrough" technology-branded Accelerator by Unilever-that caused all the problems in Europe when it was seized upon by P&G, which claimed the ingredient rotted some clothes. The claim was verified by consumer associations.

The U.K. Persil relaunch will be followed on the Continent by similar initiatives on equivalent core brands Omo in Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, Norway and Austria; and Skip in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain.

Omo and Skip, as well as a brand called Via in Sweden, were all tarred by Power's brush; all lost market share.

The rollout will be decided on a country-by-country basis.

Lever in the U.K. stressed the new composition of Persil and offshoots on the Continent is "not new technology brand new to us."

BELOW-THE-LINE PUSH

"We will spend a third of the promotional budget below the line, primarily on direct mail," said a spokeswoman in London. Up to now, Lever has allocated just a quarter of promotional budgets to direct marketing.

In Europe, P&G is looking to strengthen its brand portfolio by reviving Bonux, which it intends to position against Lever's Skip and Omo. Bonus currently sells only in France.

The company's sales force is pitching the product to retailers in Belgium in an attempt to relaunch it there after a 15-year absence.

Advertising for Bonux is being prepared by Euro RSCG.

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