P&G waged a publicity binge in the Netherlands and U.K. claiming Unilever's new manganese detergent rots clothes. But it's barely apparent here, where Unilever's Lever Espana division introduced the Skip Poder power brand in early May.
The stakes in the nearly $1 billion detergent market here are high enough to make replicating the negative north European campaign worthwhile. Lever spent about $15 million on the Skip Poder introduction from Lintas, one of the most expensive detergent launches ever in Spain, according to industry observers.
Both Lever and P&G say it's too early to judge Skip Poder's effect on market share. P&G's Ariel leads the market with 18%. Overall P&G holds about 21%, Lever about 14%, and Henkel about 20%.
In the U.K., Lever Bros. fought back with newspaper page ads Aug. 6 and 7. The ads carried the headline "Why this aerial bombardment?"-a play on words against P&G's brand, overtaken by Lever's Persil Power as the U.K.'s leading detergent.
The ads by J. Walter Thompson, London, start "Sorry about the warfare. It wasn't our idea" and explain independent tests show Persil Power doesn't damage fabric.
Lever, Procter & Gamble Espana and Henkel Iberica said they haven't received any complaints from consumers about the detergent or reacting to the issue. Henkel markets Persil in some European markets.
In Spain, Henkel and P&G have limited publicity to a pair of news releases.
P&G sent its release out July 2, giving details on the company's Skip Poder studies, said Rafael Mazon, marketing services director.
Henkel put out a similar release July 5. No references are made in P&G's ads, handled by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Espana and Vitruvio/ Leo Burnett, or Henkel's ads, created by Tandem/ DDB Needham and Lowe, Barcelona.
Total print coverage so far has been about 30 to 40 articles, Mr. Maz¢n said. "The big difference is that consumer organizations in Spain have not reacted as fast as in other countries," because those groups are younger and less powerful than those in some European countries, he said.
Lever responded to press queries, but did not send out any formal statement until July 8, when the company sent a notarized letter to P&G and Henkel asking that they stop their "denigrating" acts against Skip.
"We're still convinced that our product is stupendous," said Juan Robledo, technical liaison manager at Lever. "For us, the person who has to decide is the end consumer. You know, maybe [competitors' concerns are] an acknowledgement that it's a good product."