Ad Breakdown: Persil’s “and a hint of”

Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

Persil ad showing empty oven dish with a dish description as the copy

The ways of influencing behaviour supersede the advertising medium. You can be writing a 50+ page financial promo or a 1-page newspaper print ad, and the principles are the same. 

There’s a particular principle shown in today’s ad that’s as fundamental (and brilliantly executed) as they get. Let’s have a look.

Here’s the ad.

Who made it?

Art director: Nick Wooton | Copywriter: Jonathan John | Photographer: Tessa Traegar | Agency: J Walter Thompson | Client: Lever Brothers | Year: 1993

The idea

So what’s going on here? What’s being said? Let’s consider the main components of the ad and explore: 

Component 1: The art – an empty oven dish

Component 2: The copy – “Honey roast chicken with flaked almonds and a hint of Persil”

Component 3: The product/tagline – “Persil washing up liquid helps remove elbow grease.”

Persuasion requires a push, a pull and, with advertising, a vehicle to get there. This ad has all those components.

The copy agitates the pain (reminding you of the effort involved in cleaning a messy dish). The image shows the solution/desire (a squeaky-clean oven dish). And the product/tagline reveals itself as the easy vehicle for getting there.

Ease is the core premise here.

The challenge (and how to overcome)

But to encourage the reader to replace their current washing-up liquid with Persil requires some extra thought. You’ve got a habitual purchase to change.

So, I want to draw your attention to the fact that the food isn’t shown in the dish. On the one hand, it makes you think (which we’ll come to next). And on the other hand, it agitates the pain, creating a bigger “push”. 

Because when you think of “honey”, you think gooey, sticky and gloopy. When you think of “roasted chicken” (in this context), you think of the dried bits stuck around the edges. And when you think of flaked almonds, well, that just sounds messy. 

So, by not showing the food, your imagination actually paints a (potentially) messier dish than the ad would otherwise. This deepens its effect because you’re using your own experience to colour the ad. It becomes specific to you.

This ‘personal’ agitation, contrasted with the squeaky-clean oven dish that’s actually shown, pushes and pulls you more than just showing a dirty dish. And it’s this that inspires change and builds the desire to find an easier alternative to your current soap.

The easier alternative, of course, follows.

The “a-ha” moment

Like all good ads, there’s an “a-ha” moment in this ad too. And it stems from the small gap between the copy and the art. In fact, it’s the gap that pulls you into the ad.

You connect the dots with ease and grasp that the dish description is what’s meant to be – or was – in the empty dish. But the gap provokes you into questioning why the described dish isn’t inside.

The “and a hint Persil” drops a clue, inviting you to look further so you can answer yourself.

Of course, the tagline pulls it all together, letting the product close the loop and providing the all-important “a-ha” moment.

But as I mentioned earlier, the ad could have shown the dish or both the food and the empty dish together. Thankfully, they didn’t.

And to show you why that’s a good thing, here’s the existing ad compared to a (very bad) AI-generated alternative.

Comparison between two versions of the same ad. One showing the dish full and the other empty.

Bad AI effects aside, you get the picture. It lacks the class of the original.

And, what’s more, by giving the reader everything they need to understand the ad removes them from it. The agitation isn’t as powerful, the message doesn’t hook you, and it makes the message look weak.

Yes, it still shows the result. But the method of getting to that result is nowhere near as engaging.

And it’s the journey of getting to the result where a lot of the ad’s effectiveness lies.

Making it easy

There’s always resistance when we try to change behaviour, particularly habits. We have to overcome human inertia. If the new behaviour is perceived as difficult or time-consuming, very few are going to adopt it.

So, to initiate a new behaviour (or buying habit), you have to make it look easy.

Just like how the ad involves the reader and agitates the pain by not showing the dirty dish, it also helps the reader overlook the challenge ahead.

(The copy – the push – agitates the challenge. The art – the pull – minimises it.)

The art shows the end product, which plays on our heuristical tendencies and blurs out the messy middle part. This way, having clean dishes seems easy and becomes more attractive.

The repetition of easy doesn’t end with the art showing (or hinting) at low effort. The tagline “Persil washing up liquid helps remove elbow grease” states it more directly. But because you’ve got a show and a tell, the repetition doesn’t deter you.

And then to close out, the lack of perceived effort (only a “hint of Persil”) also helps increase Persil’s perceived value. This further motivates the reader to try it because they feel more confident that Persil will do what it says it’ll do. In other words, by increasing the perceived value, you lower the perceived risk and make a new behaviour more likely.

Summary

By inviting the reader to colour in their “pain”, you actually agitate it more. And they end up selling themselves. All you need to do is build the confidence that the solution will do what you say and minimise the risk. Or, in other words, make it seem easy.

If you enjoyed this, you can be one of the first to get the next one. Sign up for my newsletter here. You’ll also get extra insights that I don’t share anywhere else.

(With this breakdown, subscribers got the other Persil ads from the 1993 D&AD annual. Don’t miss out next time. Sign up now.)

You might also like...

Lurpak note advert
Copywriting Examples

Ad Breakdown: Lurpak’s Note

How many times have you gone to the supermarket in desperate need of something – only to do the shop and forget the very thing