There’s been quite a lot of commentary on the latest Persil ad (Robot boy) and I’ve been trying to work out why this one just doesn’t work as well for me as previous iterations and I think I’ve worked it out. Here’s my thinking – for what it is worth
You don’t need me to tell you that the “Dirt is Good” campaign is constantly held up as the epitome of a great “Big Idea”. It shows a true empathy with mums and positions Persil as a brand that helps you be a great mum bringing up happy kids. That’s about as emotionally engaging as advertising gets and has delivered huge levels of equity to the Persil brand.
The Robot boy ad should just be a continuation of that campaign, (which has been interpreted around the world with great effect, highlighting the fundamental human truth in the insight) so why do I come away feeling worse about Persil?
I think what has happened is that in this ad Persil has moved from the role of partner and confidant to Preacher and critic. The broad message “Getting dirty and having fun is what being a kid is all about, and Persil means that the dirt doesn’t matter” stays the same, but the subtext has changed.
In the original “It’s not Dirt” campaign the subtext was “You’re a good mum and like to make sure your kids are happy and that means letting them get dirty from time to time. We feel the same and have made a product that means you don’t have to worry about the dirt and can enjoy the results.” The emotional take-out is one of being care-free and happy in the knowledge that you’re doing the best by your kid.
In this new execution the subtext that I’m taking out is “If you don’t let your child get dirty you’re a bad mum because it won’t ever learn to have fun and be a proper child. Keeping your child too clean will turn your child into a social recluse without any personality. Unless you use Persil you’re a bad mum”
Or even more extreme “Preventing your child from getting dirty is tantamount to child abuse as you are taking away their fundamental human freedoms” The emotional take out here is guilt that you’re not able to let your child play out as much as you would like because of all the dangers facing them today.
The line “every child has the right to be a child” echoes campaigns such as this from Global Water
Or this one from UNICEF
Obviously Persil aren’t suggesting that mums who don’t let their kids get dirty are on a level with nations putting guns and bombs in the hands of children or governments providing typhoid infected drinking water, but using this kind of language gives rise to those sorts of feelings.
Persil have to remember what they actually do well – They get clothes clean. The original “dirt is good” campaign connected Persil with all the positive emotions of having a reliable detergent to clean your kids’ clothes and they had an absolute right to take that territory. However this new campaign places Persil in a role of social commentator, preaching to mothers about how to be good mums as if it were all about clean clothes. They do not have the right to do this and I think it backfires on them