Cillit starts with a bang

P&G has responded to the success of Cillit Bang by launching a range of Flash ‘power’ cleaners, but is this too little, too late? By Barny Stokes

P&G has responded to the success of Cillit Bang by launching a range of Flash ‘power’ cleaners, but is this too little, too late? By Barny Stokes

Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) decision to launch a new range of products under its Flash brand (MW last week) marks the start of another classic battle in household cleaning.

Flash Ultimate, due to launch in January, will be positioned as a tough all-round cleaner designed to go head-to-head with Reckitt Benckiser’s Cillit Bang range. P&G has yet to make any announcement, but industry sources say Flash Ultimate will claim to offer the functions of the four Cillit Bang variants in one product, and to outperform it in some areas.

The move indicates not only the huge success of Cillit Bang, but also the growth of “power” products in the household cleaning sector. Recent research by Mintel shows that the UK market has grown by 12 per cent since 2003 (it estimates it will be worth &£159m by the end of 2005), with power cleaners largely driving this growth.

Indeed, after a recent consumer survey, the research group found that about half of all respondents were willing to pay more for products they perceived as highly effective or time saving. As such, Mintel expects sales of Cillit Bang to reach &£6m this year, giving the brand an immediate four per cent share of the market, in addition to Reckitt’s portfolio of other cleaning brands.

Its Dettol range of cleaners has a 14 per cent share with sales expected to reach &£14m by the end of 2005, while its Harpic line adds a further one per cent (with sales predicted to reach &£2m).

So while P&G’s Flash remains the market leader with 33 per cent, followed by Unilever’s Cif (21 per cent), both have lost share as a result of Reckitt’s strengthening position.

For many industry sources, the reason for Cillit Bang’s success is its marketing. They say that J Walter Thompson’s (now JWT) tongue-in-cheek infomercial-style ad, featuring the character Barry Scott, has proved very effective. “It’s such a unique ad,” says one source. “It’s really powerful visually – especially the part where he [Scott] cleans the grime off the coin, it really sticks in your mind.”

Reckitt’s marketing team, naturally, agrees. “It was critical we had a campaign with cut-through,” says Cillit Bang brand manager Duncan Ramsay. “Barry Scott has been a key part of that.”

For industry observers though, the success of the campaign also highlights how crucial it is to choose the right style of advertising in a sector in which consumers show little brand loyalty. The Cillit Bang ad, with its high-energy presenter performing amazing product demonstrations, is an example of a very successful “rescue” campaign, they point out.

In other words, it uses the “drama triangle” principle – where a subject has a problem and a second party arrives to either solve that problem and “rescue” him, or help him solve it and “enable” him, very effectively.

“You dip a penny in the product and seconds later it comes out shiny and clean,” says Adrian Goldthorpe, vice-president of strategy and innovation at Futurebrand. “It’s a classic rescue campaign. The message is the product is so strong that you don’t have to do anything yourself.”

For Goldthorpe, Cillit Bang’s approach has been successful precisely because of the bluntness of its message. Whereas rivals have spent millions of pounds trying to establish emotional connections with consumers and build aspirational lifestyle elements into to their brands, Cillit Bang’s proposition is that it simply does the job.

“People just want to get grime off the bath,” he adds. “They don’t want to feel sexy or emotional while they’re doing it, they just want to get it clean, get out and enjoy their weekend.”

Other observers, however, disagree. Michael Curry, director of fast-moving consumer goods strategy at Interbrand, argues that fickle consumers will try any new products backed by a big media campaign. He remains unconvinced that Reckitt’s approach to marketing Cillit Bang will work in the long term, especially when it goes up against the new Flash range next year.

“P&G is the best in the class when it comes to brand management, understanding consumers’ needs and wants, and building emotional connections with them over time,” he says.

“Research shows that consumers of household products, the majority of whom are still women, do have an emotional interest in caring for their homes and families.”

Curry adds: “The product needs to perform, but beyond that it’s long-term relationships that count. So it will be interesting to see what happens when Flash Ultimate hits the market.”

No doubt Reckitt’s chief executive Bart Becht, a former P&G man, will be one such interested party. â¢

Behind the brand

⢠Cillit Bang was launched in Hungary in 2003. After a successful trial, Reckitt Benckiser rolled the product out across Europe before bringing it to the UK in November 2004.

⢠The ad campaign, created by J Walter Thompson, was shot in the style of a home shopping channel infomercial and featured the character Barry Scott. It was an instant hit and Scott became a cult figure.

⢠One of the ad’s most memorable images features Scott dipping a discoloured coin in a solution of Cillit Bang, before pulling it out seconds later stripped of grime. Viewers complained that the claim Cillit Bang could render the coin as good as new in 15 seconds was misleading and the Advertising Standards Authority upheld the complaints.

⢠Earlier this year, one of Reckitt’s PR consultants took the joke too far by ghost-writing a fictional blog from Scott and posting messages about Cillit Bang on a well-known website. Reckitt was not amused and the company in question removed the offending messages. Despite the hiccup Scott remains the face of Cillit Bang with sales expected to reach &£6m this year.

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