Making soil selling point

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Unilever has a dirty little secret.

It's looking to dust off its Wisk laundry-detergent brand with a rare TV-free campaign that uses teaser ads on billboards and wild postings, a Web site promoting dirt and support from former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. The idea is to get moms talking to each other about dirt and Wisk as they collect "Wisk points" in hopes of winning a visit from Mr. Ripken, who will makeover a tired Little League ballpark into a "dream field."

But Wisk needs a makeover of its own. Despite the $12 million Unilever spent on spot TV behind the first stage of the campaign, themed "Go ahead. Get Dirty" from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe & Partners, New York last year, sales plummeted 24.1% to $176.7 million, according to Information Resources Inc. Figures do not include Wal-Mart Stores, club and dollar stores.

`point of dirt'

The Wisk-campaign began with blind teaser billboards last month directing consumers to the Web site americaneedsdirt.com and will play out in wild postings near ballparks and playgrounds where kids get dirty, along with magazines, newspaper inserts and retail displays.

The media plan aims at reaching people at "the point of dirt," said Stacie Bright, Unilever marketing-communications manager, adding that exclusion of TV wasn't driven by cost considerations but by how best to reach Wisk's consumers.

"It's definitely a very different approach for the laundry category," she said. "It's really important to her [Mom] that her kids are going outside and playing and that they're healthy, but she also has to deal with the stains and the aftermath."

Wisk is specially formulated to get out dirt and grass stains kids get from playing outside, she said. And Mr. Ripken is well known for his "dirty-shirt" style of play.

Lowe as well as WPP Group's MindShare, Interpublic's Draft Interactive, Burson-Marsteller and Omnicom Group's Alcone Marketing helped develop the new version of the campaign.

Deutsche Bank analyst Andrew Shore, who recently issued a report contending most mature package-goods brands don't earn a return on TV investment, (AA, May 24) calls Wisk's approach a "panacea. ... I think Unilever is finally getting it on the media side."

Despite the embrace of dirt, Wisk may still be better known among boomers and Gen Xers for its `60s TV ads aimed at mortifying housewives should their husbands' shirts develop "ring around the collar." But with concerns rising about childhood obesity, a bigger concern is getting kids to exercise. One Wisk outdoor ad touts dirt as an alternative to the four hours a day that kids watch TV.

"Once upon a time, dirt was the problem," said Dean Hacohen, executive creative director at Lowe. "Now it's the solution."

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