Unilever lost considerable ground when Procter & Gamble Co. discredited the major 1994 launch of Persil Power, by demonstrating the powerful detergent was so strong it damaged clothes.
The new laundry tablets, a solid version of Unilever's Persil powder, liquid and concentrate lines, hit U.K. shelves last week, with a national multimedia ad campaign from J. Walter Thompson Co. scheduled to start by midmonth.
The product also is in Greece and France, under the Skip brand name; there are plans for a European rollout later this year.
Although details of the U.K. campaign are unavailable, the marketing will focus on the convenience of "unit-dosing," the pre-measured system that allows consumers to know precisely what's being used, to limit waste. More than one-third of Europeans already use detergent tablets for their dishwashers.
"The beauty about the tablets is that you don't have to scoop it, measure it or suffer unpleasant spills all over the place," said John Ballington, consumer affairs director at Lever Bros., Unilever's detergent unit. "This is the product for the new millennium. It could do for the washing market what the tea bag did for making cups of tea."
The round tablets come pre-packed in twos in a box of 24 or 40.
NO U.K. TEST
Persil Tablets is being launched nationally without test marketing, unusual in the U.K., and unexpected since the late Persil Power also rolled out without a consumer market test, and only later was discovered to tear and fade clothes during wash.
That disaster reduced Unilever's European share of market vs. P&G.
A report by U.K. research company Euromonitor read: "Lever Bros. saw its share of the market fall over [1995 to 1997] . . . due to poor performance in the key detergents sector, where the Persil Power debacle had a significant impact on its flagship brand's performance."
"We've learned a great deal about [the tablets] during [the seven years'] development," countered Mr. Ballington. "We tested it in all conditions, even if they were extreme or unusual. We've chosen not to do test marketing because we have confidence in it."
He predicted tablets will take a 20% share in the U.K.'s $1.67 billion detergent market in two years, displacing concentrates, which increasingly are proving unpopular because consumers find them difficult to measure.
Soon after Unilever's rollout was disclosed, P&G said it is test-marketing Ariel Discs in the north England town of Grimsby.
A P&G spokeman denied Ariel Discs is in response to Persil Tablets.