Persil deepens commitment to ‘critical issue’ of children’s playtime with film set in US prison Posted on

Marketing Week, 22 March, 2016

Persil is hoping to bring about behavioural change by encouraging parents to “get out and get dirty with their children” as it evolves its ‘Dirt is good’ marketing strategy to focus on the worrying statistic that prisoners at a maximum security jail in the US spend more time outside than the average child.

The campaign, created by MullenLowe, is based around brand research which found that one in two children spend an hour or less outside per day and one in 10 never play outdoors.

As a result, Unilever‘s Persil has created ‘Free the Kids’ – a film set in a maximum security prison in the US. It features various prison inmates talking about the importance of their daily outdoor time and the lack of outdoor time that children experience.

James Hayhurst, global brand director at Persil, told Marketing Week that while the new campaign is a continuation of the brand’s ‘Dirt is Good’ messaging, it takes a more radical approach in order to get its key message out there and drive behavioural change.

“We uncovered this stat around the fact that outside play is in long term decline, which we thought was pretty worrying. This was an opportunity for us to bring the issue to the fore.

“With the campaign we wanted to illustrate the importance of the matter, so that parents can understand it’s a serious issue. It’s hard to get people to listen, which is why we developed it in this way.”

Persil already claims to have led societal change in Vietnam, where it lobbied and convinced school authorities to add a break to the school day when previously there had been none. Now it wants to do the same in other countries.

“This is another chapter and a deepening of our commitment. We’ve been really proud to have raised the importance of play over the years. Unilever has a corporate strategy that has three big goals in terms of reducing environmental impact and increasing positive social good that we do. Each of the brands is trying to play their part. Persil is one of the bigger brands and it has purpose at its heart,” he said.

“More and more we want the brand to be facilitating and giving advice and help for parents who know that play is important for learning but want help and advice. So we wanted to let them know that we’re listening and then follow it up with help and advice. It’s about having a conversation.”

Developing a ‘news’ campaign

Hayhurst said the brand is treating ‘Free the Kids’ as a “news campaign”. It will be using Twitter Moments to help spread the word, which is a first for Unilever.

“We decided to use Twitter Moments because it’s a good way to deliver the news of the day. We believe it’s an important headline and that the stat is genuinely newsworthy. This campaign is about driving conversation and they are best held in the digital sphere,” he said.

Besides using Twitter, the campaign will also be supported by PR, cinema, mobile and a digital campaign. Launching in the UK, Brazil and Turkey, the campaign asks parents to share their views on play and sign up their child’s school to Outdoor Classroom Day via

“What we want to do is to land the statistic. It’s about how can we deliver what we thought was a pretty stunning and worrying fact and trend. That’s why we took the approach that we did in terms of using the comparison,” he explained.

10 years of Dirt is Good

The new campaign builds on a decade-long history of Dirt is Good, a programme focused on raising awareness of the importance of children getting involved in outdoor play.

According to Hayhurst, the ongoing campaign has delivered “good brand growth” during that time and changed people’s perceptions.

He explained: “We’ve tracked metrics around parents saying children are able to develop better if they’re free to get dirty, and we’ve seen those numbers rise over the years. So [Dirt is Good] is something we’re well invested in.”

The brand, however, is now keen to give parents more advice when it comes to getting the family outdoors.

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