Thursday, June 17, 2010

How To Trash a Brand

Laban's not a terribly brand-conscious individual unless it's a question of things you can taste and/or smell - and even then the product may change while the label stays the same. Many famous food brands have been bought and sold half a dozen times in the last 30 years, with production moved from factory to factory.

One of Laban's few brands was soap. I'll shower with Tesco's bottom of the range gel (literally about 10p) but for some reason I just love the smell of Pears soap. I know it won't give me the complexion of a young Susan Hampshire, but I like that the product is pretty much unchanged since the Pears company were annoying Millais in Victorian times.

I'd buy ten or a dozen bars at a throw and stack them in the bottom drawer of the bathroom cupboard, so I'd only get it every year or so. I ran out last month, and went to buy some more. For some reason the stock in the shop smelled a bit odd, so I just took the one bar. They didn't seem to have any of the heftier bath size, either.

The first time I used it I wondered if the same company was making Wright's Coal Tar and there'd been a bit of cross-over on the production line. Wasn't right at all - a phenolic, chemical smell not at all like the delicate aroma I know and love.

Took a look at the packet. "Made In India by Licensed User Hindustan Unilever Ltd". Ah, I get it. It's a slightly dodgy approximation to the real thing made for less sophisticated overseas markets, and the shop's doing some grey importing. I bought some Heinz Salad Cream a week or two back for 46p, made in Amsterdam and with the label in half a dozen Arabic/Asian scripts. Just make sure you get the UK-made stuff next time, Laban.

Gulp. There ain't none no more. That's all there is.

According to Unilever records, Pears Soap was the world's first registered brand and is therefore the world's oldest continuously existing brand...

In October of 2009 the formula for the transparent amber soap was changed significantly. This completely changed the smell and texture of the soap, making it unrecognizable from the earlier product. The new soap is slightly softer in texture, but the most noticeable difference is the scent. The aroma of the classic transparent amber bar, which used to be characterized by a mild, spicy herbal fragrance, is now a very strong smell akin to frankincense, or even insecticide.

Sales must have dropped off a cliff. They really have knacked it (and they can't spell 'Click' on their website, either. I hate Flash intros on a website.). In Morrison's this week it was on sale at 35p as opposed to the usual 55p price. According to the Mail they were going to backtrack on the formula, but by the smell they appear to have instead moved production to Bhopal. What possessed them ? Why fix something that wasn't broke ?

Looks like farewell to Pears - and there's nothing else like it on the pharmacy or supermarket shelf - you have to hit Body Shop or some small specialist. There's a market opening there for someone fast on their feet.


JuliaM said...

"Why fix something that wasn't broke ?"

So that advertising executives can afford BMWs...


rechercher said...

That's too bad--I thought the India-made version was just being dumped on American Dollar Tree shoppers (like me). Lillie Langtry must be rolling in her grave.

Macheath said...

Much of Pears' loyal customer base is dying out - always a problem for a long-established brand. They have two options - try to create a market among a generation desensitised by ever-stronger synthetic fragrances or simply undercut on price.

The old bar, which is branded 'pure and gentle', contained just eight ingredients, including rosemary and thyme extracts and 'Pears fragrance essence'.
But these were replaced with 24 ingredients.

Which are doubtless factory-synthesised in bulk to go with the cheap Indian labour; smellier and cheaper - job done!

Foxy Brown said...

Another example of England and Englishness being slowly chipped away. It's a seemingly small element of culture, but it's the little things that are so crucial to the overall make-up.

dearieme said...

"Why fix something that wasn't broke ?" Because some executive is determined to show his "skills" at "change management".

Weekend Yachtsman said...

"The old bar, which is branded 'pure and gentle', contained just eight ingredients..."

None of which was patented or patentable, I'll assume.

Therein lies another possible explanation.

I'm dreading the day this happens to Euthymol toothpaste: another completely unique product with a fanatical following (of one, quite possibly).


Rideflame. said...

Ah, thanks for noticing and explaining the changes to Pears. I just click on the name when I do the online Tesco shop, then mindlessly open the packet -flinging the packaging away into the bin- and so I thought I was imagining the change!

I'll just have to buy all my soap from Disabled and Cold (Able and Cole) or Lush ~sigh!

Traction Man said...

Neutragena might be an alternative.

Laban said...

My middle son - just turned 20 and at uni in London - is a Euthymol convert.