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Mis-Communicator of the Week: Persil

24th September 2013

Rebuttal and correction of mis-information about your company, organisation or brand is an essential part of modern communication. With the rise of social media as a primary source of information, the saying attributed to Mark Twain, that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes has never been more true. The mantra of "speed kills" should drive your efforts but always be sure of your facts first.

That is where this week's Mis-Communicator of the Week went wrong; they attempted to correct something which wasn't wrong and ended up with egg on their face.

Ever since I was a boy I remember the Fairy washing liquid adverts illustrating how their product would last up to "50 per cent longer" than rival brands. Some of their adverts in the 1980s, including the one with actress Nanette Newman showing off the number of extra plates families could wash up with their bottles, were iconic and influential. Do you remember the jingle, "Now hands that do dishes can feel as soft as your face, with mild green Fairy Liquid"? 

Fairy's nearest rival, Persil, decided to challenge the claims made on TV and digital billboard ads and complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA rightly decided that they weren't qualified to rule on something like this so they called in the consumer champions Which? for help. The result being that one 433ml bottle of Fairy Liquid — in a 2012 review by Which? magazine - was found to wash the equivalent of 4,292 plates but the reviewers needed two 500ml bottles of Persil to wash the same number.

So, Persil's complaint backfired and this ruling by the ASA has subsequently been covered in every major newspaper as a form of free advertising or PR worth millions. Lucky old Fairy. This only came about because Persil were too quick to rebut a claim which was true and, one assumes, without checking all their facts with their product development and R&D teams. A lesson for all of us that it is right to keep competition clean but only if you are sure of your own facts. That is why Persil are my Mis-Communicators of the Week. 

Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite

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