01 February 1999

THE PHILOSOPHY that has made Procter & Gamble an all-conquering force in global fmcg marketing was restated last month: ‘It’s more important to get it right than to be first.’ The Cincinnati-based multinational was referring to its decision to launch Ariel Disks in the UK and other European markets in April - eleven months after Lever Brothers snatched leadership of the UK market with Persil Tablets. But the reference could equally well have applied to the 1994 fiasco when Lever’s hastily introduced Persil Power brand also shot to number one position before its tendency to rot fabrics was revealed and remorselessly exploited by P&G. Lever quickly conceded defeat, withdrew the product, and P&G renewed its brand leadership. The newly-declared ‘tablet war’ is unlikely to be a re-run of the 1994 debacle [Lever is not the sort of company that makes the same mistake twice] and Persil Tablets has a commanding lead over P&G in the UK and elsewhere. However, Procter declares itself ‘quietly confident’ about its new product, despite a higher price than its rival. ‘We believe it has a superior performance’, says P&G, pointing out that it has bested Lever in automatic washing machine powders, concentrated powders, and liquids - all sectors in which Unilever had initially beaten it to the draw. ‘We hope history will repeat itself’, said a P&G spokesman. P&G commands over half the UK’s total washing product market; Lever lags with just over 30%.