The product was introduced last year mainly under the Omo and Persil brands in different markets; it contained manganese, an ingredient Unilever dubbed "the Accelerator" and that rival Procter & Gamble Co. claimed rotted clothing. The result was a bitter battle in newspaper headlines and public relations as the detergent giants traded insults. P&G's attack included savage ads from Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising.
Unilever, starting its European rollout of New Generation Persil in the U.K. next month, will not openly concede failure for a product on which it spent hundreds of millions of dollars. But the Accelerator is conspicuously absent from the new brand.
"The difficulty that [Unilever] has to deal with is the evidence that that product is faulty from a fabric wear point of view, which is being acknowledged by their announcement," said a Brussels-based spokesman for P&G Europe, itself in the throes of a pan-European introduction of a concentrated version of its Ariel brand, Ariel Future.
Although Unilever insists New Generation Persil will not replace the Power product, the company admits it has been forced into a "specialist" niche as a line extension for very soiled clothes.
"We have recognized that people are concerned" about damage to clothing, said a spokesman for Lever Bros., Unilever's U.K. detergent subsidiary.
Unilever is spending $29 million on the Persil brand umbrella this year, including $7 million on a Persil Finesse line extension for delicate clothes. That line, now being introduced in the U.K., already exists in several European markets.
Like the Power brand, ads for New Generation Persil will be handled by J. Walter Thompson, London, in the U.K.; PPGH/ JWT, Amsterdam, in Holland; and Lintas Europe in other markets.