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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Sale: Brand X Detergent, as Seen on TV




Every company knows the ironclad rule of marketing: The more your competitor advertises, the more your brand name is harmed.


Well, almost every company.


One small factory in Eastern Siberia sees things differently f and says its sales are booming.


The Angarsk factory sells Ordinary Detergent, which the company admits it copied from the brand X detergent shown in Procter & Gamble's television commercials for Ariel detergent.


Thus, company officials reason, the detergent gets extensive advertising time without the factory having to foot the bill.


And the amount of free advertising time gained by Angarsk is enormous: More than 112 hours f 7,588 spots f have run on all the major television channels since Proctor & Gamble launched the ad campaign showing how Ariel-washed clothes turn out cleaner than those washed with an ordinary detergent, according to the Russian Public Relations Group. Procter & Gamble was also the largest advertiser in Russia in 1998.


The Siberian factory, which has registered the Ordinary Detergent trademark, has done its best to stay as close as possible to the image created by Procter & Gamble, said Natalya Saramud, head of marketing at the Angarsk factory.


While the brand X in the Ariel commercial comes in a plain white box and is only verbally identified as an "ordinary detergent," Angarsk's product comes in white 500-gram boxes with blue soap bubbles and the brand name the Ordinary Detergent.


Saramud said company officials had decided not to spend a kopek on advertising Ordinary on television or in newspapers and trade magazines. The only exceptions were made for price lists and similar informational material designated for dealers.


And, advertising experts agreed, why should they? With Procter & Gamble's commercials having appeared on television channels ORT, RTR, NTV, and TV Center, Russians are well aware of ordinary detergent.


"Procter & Gamble has spent almost five years telling consumers about ordinary detergent," said Andrei Fedotov, director at Russian Public Relations Group.


Over at the Moscow offices of U.S. giant Procter & Gamble, officials said they were unconcerned that the Siberian company was riding its coattails.


"Believe me, in no way will their [product] harm our business," company spokesman Andrei Bader said.


However, one Procter & Gamble official, who asked not to be identified, conceded: "They were really clever to produce detergent under this brand name."


Angarsk officials said they do not mind the negative image created by the Procter & Gamble commercials.


"At least this is an image and people do recognize and like our product," Saramud said.


Indeed, the Angarsk factory has received a number of calls from lawyers offering to sue Procter & Gamble for maligning its reputation, she added.


The factory does not have any intention to file suit.


In addition to the free publicity it has received, the Ordinary Detergent appears to be selling well because of its low price. A box retails for a mere 8 rubles, while Ariel costs 40 rubles.


"Why would one buy a box of Tide or Ariel for 40 rubles when you can pay 8 rubles for Ordinary?" said Veronika Akhmetsyanova, a housewife living in the Moscow region.


"I use it only when I clean cheap and simple clothes," she added. "Why should I waste high-quality and expensive brands on them?"


To keep the cost low, Angarsk factory decided to make the best of the low-quality image created by Procter & Gamble and use the simplest, if not primitive, formula of detergent.


The affordable price f there is no cheaper rival brand with such a well-known name in Russia f has boosted sales to such a level that the factory is already able to sell the Ordinary Detergent in Russia's most lucrative markets, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Angarsk factory, which produces other chemical-based products, has an annual capacity of 60,000 tons.


The factory would not provide sales figures, but it said Ordinary is gradually replacing other products as it strives to keep up with demand.


With the success of Ordinary, the factory is launching a more sophisticated detergent line, Ergo, which will sell for 12 to 14 rubles a box, officials said.


Experts with the New York-based trademark watchdog the International Trademark Association said it is not unusual for companies to register well-known generic terms as their trademarks, citing the registration of Fig Newtons, an American cookie, as an example.


"However, when a generic word is registered as a trademark it does not necessary mean that it will succeed," spokeswoman Renee McLeod said.


She added that she had never before heard of a company registering the word "ordinary" as a trademark.