Washing powder falling through an open hand

Contained within the Archive is the story of the battle fought in the late 1960s between Lever Bros and Procter & Gamble over the market for washing powders.

A personal recollection by Tony Scouller, who witnessed it working with Lever Bros and their advertising agency, J Walter Thompson can be found in the Papers Collection (coded PA2).

The origin lay in the Monopolies and Mergers Commission established by the Labour Government, with the guideline that a 25% market share constituted a potential monopoly. They decided to investigate the detergent market dominated by the two big players, and they argued that they should reduce their “selling expenses” and pass the savings to the consumer. It was the time when technology was introducing innovations such as the Twin-tub machine (from John Bloom of Rolls Razor), later the Front-loading Automatic Machine with a faster spin cycle.

The leading brands were the soap-based Persil (“Persil Washes Whiter”) from Lever Bros, and synthetic non-soap detergents Tide and Fairy from P&G.

To meet the challenge presented by the Commission, both companies launched new products, priced at 30% below the leading brands. To cut a complicated story short, P&G test marketed a new product, Ariel, which contained enzymes and focused on its stain-removal power. However, research indicated for Lever Bros that a focus on whiteness was a superior message, and after a relative failure with a new brand called Radiant, they persisted with the whiteness message by re-launching Persil as Persil Automatic.   Both of these can be found prominently displayed on our supermarket shelves today.



The Archive of Market and Social Research contains a wide range of valuable material, and it’s free to access. Follow this link to go directly to the Archive’s home page.

Contributed by Peter Bartram
Date posted: June 11th, 2020


Share this