Super Bowl

Why the Super Bowl Is Becoming the Toilet Bowl, Where America Airs Dirty Laundry

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The Super Bowl ad roster is turning into a place for America to air its dirty laundry and then clean it.

This year, an apparently unprecedented four household cleaning, freshening or laundry brands have bought into an ad showcase that's dominated by more fun things, like cars, beer and snacks.

While home care brands have been in the game in years past, there have never been two at a time, much less four, according to Ad Age research. And there's never before been a head-to-head matchup in laundry detergent like this year's impending battle between Procter & Gamble Co.'s Tide and Henkel's Persil.

Why now? The influx appears to mark a decision by legendarily analytical household-product marketers, which for years funneled an outsize share of their TV money into cheaper, lower-rated cable fare, that pricier but more widely watched events may be a better buy after all.

It's also an indicator that the audience for cleaning supplies has broadened, so it makes more sense to hit everyone with cleaning ads at the same time, said Martin Hettich, VP-North American Home Care at Procter & Gamble Co., who greenlighted two of his company's three Super Bowl ads.

"We're going back to an era of people living longer in a household with parents as well," Mr. Hettich said. "So sharing the burdens among more members of the family -- and it's not just necessarily about men and women, but also about same-sex couples or any family -- is important."

Going into the Super Bowl was a direct outgrowth of Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard's focus on the old-fashioned media virtues of reach and frequency -- certainly checking the reach box -- as well as favoring "craft not crap," Mr. Hettich said. Mr. Pritchard talked at P&G's analyst day in November about shifting money to "more broadly appealing television shows" along with higher-reach digital platforms, such as Facebook.

Mr. Hettich, who held a contest for all four of his brands to get a Super Bowl slot, ultimately decided along with the rest of the P&G jury to back two, Mr. Clean and Febreze, based on strength of the creative.

Febreze is unveiling its Super Bowl entry today, after teasing it last week with a preview spot that helped back a joint promotion with P&G sibling Charmin around the notion that people should buy toilet paper and air freshener to prepare for the halftime break, just as they stock carts with beer and snacks for the rest of the game.

The Febreze ad from Grey, starring comic actress Kathryn Hahn, will run in the second quarter and focus on people's rush to the bathroom for halftime relief, along with the need air freshener.

Henkel's Persil is in the Super Bowl for a second year in a row, which may have helped push Tide back in the game after a four-year hiatus. (Its last appearance was "Miracle Stain" in 2013.) Persil has been going directly after category-leader Tide in the premium performance segment of detergent, with its Super Bowl spot last year claiming performance superiority over all comers .

Henkel declined to say how long its ad would run or provide other details, other than suggesting it will feature the white-coated "Professional" from last year's 15-second effort by TBWA. Janell Holas, VP-marketing for Persil, said in a statement that last year's ad "was instrumental in getting the Persil name recognized across the country." It aired toward the tail end of Persil's first year in the U.S. and as it was rolling broadly into retailers nationwide after starting as a Walmart exclusive.

Tide's ad from Saatchi will feature New England Patriots' injury-sidelined tight end Rob Gronkowski and Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the transgender Maura Pfefferman on Amazon Prime's "Transparent," said a P&G spokeswoman, confirming a report by Elite Daily last week. But she noted a long-term trend toward Tide, and P&G, being involved in the Super Bowl and with the NFL. Tide has had either a TV spot or some kind of digital activation, including a running social-media commentary, in three of its past five years of its NFL partnership, she said. Even before that, the brand's 2008 "Talking Stain" ad stands among some all-time-favorite Super Bowl ads. So in a sense, the other cleaning brands are now piling on.

"Tide sees the Super Bowl as an opportunity to reach a big, captive audience," she said, "with an entertaining yet insightful story that gets them to appreciate the brand and its cleaning power."

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