The Persil Power
How Unilever failed to research about consumer behavior
Semester III MBA , Section ‘C’
Presidency Business School
Anglo- Dutch multinational
Founded in 1933.
in London and Rotterdam.
One of the oldest multinational
Its products are available in
around 190 countries.
Unilever owns over 400 brands.
So, what was Persil Power and why
did it attract so much flak?
The detergent powder was launched in 1994 across Europe.
It was the result of a major technological breakthrough (as per Unilever).
Product development efforts spanned a period of 10 years.
Unilever spent close to 100 million pounds.
Intention was to overtake Ariel detergent.
What was unique about
Persil power ?
Product had - manganese catalyst (accelerator )
that could clean clothes even at lower
Unilever protected its innovative efforts by
• This product – result of Unilever’s
research- competitive advantage
• cleaned clothes without damaging
• 35 patents
• Test marketing in 60000 households
P&G springs into action-
failure of Persil
After testing, P&G found that under certain
conditions, Persil powder damaged the
The catalyst could damage colored clothes at
A big failure for Unilever.
Negative publicity by P&G.
• lost the legal battle
• forced to withdraw the product
• lost 300 million pounds spent in development
So what went wrong?
Unilever had conducted most of its tests in Dutch
In Northern Europe, people washed their white and
colored clothes separately.
In Southern Europe, clothes were washed together in
1. Manganese catalyst was fine at low temperatures.
2. But it reacted with certain dyes at hot temperatures.
So, it was a niche product (cold water ,white
In an interview, Niall Fitzgerald said, “‘Communications
had evolved so fast that within seconds this wasn’t a
brand issue, this was a corporate issue. So even if we
had wanted to ring-fence our product, we couldn’t
Unilever chairman Sir Michael Perry referred to this
incident as the greatest marketing setback that Unilever
had ever seen.
People avoided this product with a thought that
it will destroy their clothes.
The product was a flop.
Most retailers quickly took the product from
Unilever launched a crisis management program
1995 – Persil power replaced with Persil New
Great organizations learn from their failures
instead of carping about it or fixing
accountabilities when the damage is already
This experience taught Unilever to promote
greater cross-functional co-ordination
between R&D and marketing functions.
The company institutionalized the process of
setting up dedicated innovation centers
instead of adopting an ethnocentric
No brand is an island.
Products have to be tested under all
Q1.What are the aspects of consumer behavior that
Unilever missed? How did it affect their business?
Unilever only focused on one segment of market that
is Northern Europe where people washed clothes
separately and in low temperatures. (NICHE
PRODUCT) but sold product in other geographies.
Failed to test product in all conditions.
Lagged behind in research of usage norms in different
Effects on business:-
• product was withdrawn
• negative publicity by P&G
• loss of 300 million pounds
Q2.Does this case study highlight the
importance of understanding consumer
behavior before a business decides to
innovate a product?
Yes, because it helps to understand
Difference in consumer behaviors in different geographies
Varied expectations of consumers
Reasons why consumers buy a product
Likes and dislikes of consumers
Impact of brand failure on corporate reputation
The significant risk for Unilever was…
• If one product encounters a problem the image of other products could be
• Dent in brand reputation
• Loss in customer’s trust and confidence in the brand