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January 2001 - Washing Powder

A few days ago, the regular reader of Nick Harvey's Comment asked me if there is any logic behind the monthly production of this load of old rubbish.

The question surprised me in two ways. Firstly, for someone to actually admit to being a regular reader must take an enormous amount of bravery, even if they DID ask me not to mention their name. The second reason for surprise was that they even considered it possible for logic to prevail in a brain as twisted as mine!

So, in answer to the question from Mrs R from Ferndown, NO their is no logic whatsoever in either my brain or the production of Comment.

Which brings us to the subject for this time round.

If a total failure of logic is one of my characteristics, then the only place I can have caught this disease is from the producers of washing powder and, more importantly, their advertising agents.

Anyone who watches satellite television from Germany will have seen this one coming, but for the rest of you, a brief introduction.

Washing powder commercials on the European television channels seem to run about a year ahead of those on our British channels like ITV, Channel 4 and the like.

You can spot the style of advertising slowly changing in Europe and then, some months later, you see the change slowly creeping over the Channel until it is repeated over here.

I think your average advertising executive considers the Germans to be the thickest of the advert watchers in Europe, as they seem to use that country as the test-bed for new ways of telling you the same old boring story about the same old product.

But, just occasionally, it's not the same old story, it's a new and different story which ALMOST makes you take an interest.

A little bit of market research now. If I asked you what a good washing powder should do, I suspect that nearly all of you would include the phrase "get the clothes clean" in your answer.

That's because you've all been conditioned by years of advertising that that's the right answer to give.

And, indeed, every commercial I've ever seen for washing powder has made a very important point of ramming that particular message home at every available opportunity.

That is, until I watched some adverts on a German regional channel about a year ago. All of a sudden, I realised that the message was suddenly and not very subtly changing.

Now, where can be the logic in telling the world that washing powders get clothes clean, every day for about fifty years, and then changing tack to a completely different message?

I'll leave it to you out there to try to work that one out as I don't understand it in the slightest. After all, I haven't got a logical brain!

Perhaps one of the ancient Greek gods should have been called "Whiteness", because that's certainly been the god that all the advertising managers at washing powder companies have been worshipping since the dawn of Daz.

But now they have suddenly cast aside the graven image and found a new god to worship. His name is "Gentleness" and they seem to think he is about to take over the world.

He started life in Germany and then arrived in Britain a couple of months back, in the earthly form of that strange chap who's decided to rejoin the world at last, and buy just ONE new shirt.

His poor daughter, well, I assume she's his daughter, seems to have to do all the washing; and is worried to death about what would happen to him if his one and only shirt wore out in the wash.

I can't help thinking that she'd worry a lot less if she just went out and bought him a SECOND shirt, or even half a dozen more!

Daddy and daughter appear to have been brought in to tell you that the washing powder manufacturers have been getting it wrong for the last half century in making a product that gets clothes clean and white.

What they should have been doing is making a powder that is so gentle on the clothes that even after twenty washes, the fibres are as smooth and the colours are as bright, as they were on the day you bought the garment.

Bit of an about turn don't you think? I'm sure a certain iron lady in a worn out, faded blue dress, who sits in the Lords wouldn't approve of such a change of direction in mid stream.

I'll bet that when Daddy sold washing powder in his grocers shop in Grantham it was to get things clean, not to be gentle on them! This Tide shouldn't be for turning!

Seeing as this new direction in the advertising campaign started, as I've said, some while ago on the continent, it seems like another very good reason to join the ranks of aforementioned lady in a membership of the Euro-Sceptics Club.

But what I still can't fathom out is why the change and why, all of a sudden?

If it was tied to some mention of being greener, I could understand it. If the new "gentle" powders were more environmentally friendly I could at least see what hook the advertising agencies were trying to hang the new campaign on.

But the only mention of green in the commercials is the fact that green clothes stay that way, rather than fading in the wash.

And why, when ALL the German powders are fighting to be the gentlest in the world, have only a couple in this country erected the band wagon and jumped on?

Are the others late? Haven't the missionaries of the great new god found their way to that part of the jungle yet? Or don't the others think we're thick enough to believe them?

I reckon that last explanation has got to be the one.

They think that after fifty years of telling us one clear story, they daren't change their tune in case we realise that the whole story has always been a pack of lies, still is a pack of lies and always will be a pack of lies. And where would that leave them in trying to sell another packet of powder?

If we were all to twig that the only language they speak is rubbish, we'd all be down at the local river bashing our Y-Fronts on a stone, instead of buying their new, better value, improved, compacted, biological, low temperature, bigger E100 sized, automatic, concentrated, biodegradable Blippo (in the recycled box).

Phew, that paragraph even surprised ME! I went to get a soap powder box to get some of those descriptions, and I've now come to the conclusion that apart from only knowing rubbish as a language, the advertisers were only taught adjectives when they learnt grammar at school.

It'll be interesting to see how many, if any, other manufacturers jump on this "gentle" band wagon.

I suspect they all will in time, just as they have sur le continent, but I still think the change of angle has no logic to it at all, and your average housewife like Mrs R of Ferndown will see through it right away.

It's a bit like telling the world that black is black for fifty years and then saying you're wrong and it was white all the time.

Anyway, that's enough of a ramble for this time round, I'm being told that I've got to go and do the washing.

The next exciting edition of Comment will pop out of the dryer at the beginning of February, so be sure to catch me then.

In the meantime, right, I'm off, where's me washboard?

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