Will Persil’s fragrance innovation refresh the brand?

Will Persil’s fragrance innovation refresh the brand?

That Unilever is extending flagship laundry brand Persil with a fragranced sub-brand (MW last week) highlights the struggle manufacturers face to add meaningful value in a fiercely competitive sector.

The move also confirms that it is fragrance-led innovation that leads the way in today’s laundry detergent market, rather than format or task-driven development.

Persil, the market leader, is facing increasing competition from Procter & Gamble mid-market brand Bold – which has leveraged its own fragranced range resulting in strong growth – as well as from supermarket own-labels, which have become more attractive in today’s price-sensitive market.

According to Mintel, the detergents market is forecast to see only marginal growth from its total 2007 value of £857m. Persil, although still the market leader, has seen its brand share drop by 2% since 2005, from 24% to 22%.

Sensitive skin

The new Persil sub-brand, Persil Naturals, is set to launch in early 2009 and echoes the just-launchedNaturals variants added to Unilever’s market-leading fabric conditionerComfort. The Comfort Naturals linehas been developed for sensitive skin and is available in three variants/ olive blossom with cotton extract; jojobaoil and white orchid; and a fragrance blended with aloe vera.

The move to introduce fragrances to Persil is proof that premium detergent brands are having to develop new ways to simply maintain market share, say experts.

Leo Burnett account director Chris Jackson heads the advertising agency’s laundry business across western Europe, working on P&G brands including Fairy and Dreft.

He says: “Brands need to offer some meaningful product innovation to the consumer, so that they are willing to pay a premium. What we’re seeing now is that it is not enough to simply have a new format.”

Jackson believes the challenge for brands is how to continue to give consumers a sense of value when own labels are increasingly trusted. He says: “We have seen switching from the kind of consumers who would usually buy the premium brands.”

Brand extensions into fragrances have been the main factor affecting growth in laundry detergents for the past two years, despite major brand-led marketing campaigns from premium lines, such as Persil’s Dirt isGood positioning, recently developed with the global Every Child Has the Right push. P&G, too, invested £12m in its 30-degrees campaign for Ariel, but has seen the brand’s UK shareslide from 21% to 18% between 2005 and 2007.

Jackson points out that P&G brand Bold’s growth “kick-started” when it introduced its Camomile variant in 2004. With further launches of aspirational-sounding fragrances, such as Black Diamond and Lotus Flower, the brand grew 3% between 2005 and 2007, giving it a market share similar to that of Ariel.

Euromonitor household care analyst Adrian Atterby says he is surprised Unilever has not introduced fragrances to Persil sooner. “Bold has been leading the way, gaining share hand over fist for three or four years,” he says.

“Consumers must wonder why it is that Bold is a ‘standard’ product, and yet has all these fragrance options, as does Unilever’s cheaper brand Surf, but ‘premium’ Persil has none.”

Fresh perspective

Atterby feels that, while Persil Naturals is aimed at an older consumer, probably with children, it is “clearly in response” to Bold. “Fragrances are easier to update. They give the consumer something fresh and interesting, rather than dull advertising about format types,” he says.

Unilever is expected to spend at least £5m on the UK launch of Persil Naturals, in the hope, say observers, that the line will go some way to preventing further erosion of the brand’s market share.

Louise Jack

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