PRODUCTS: As the Soapers' World Turns

The scenario could have been plucked from a lachrymose soap opera. For years, the leading soapmakers—Procter & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive and Lever Bros.—successfully wooed the U.S. housewife. By concocting an endless variety of "new" ingredients to make her wash "whiter," "brighter" and "sparkling," they induced her to buy more than a billion dollars worth of detergents and "pre-soaks" annually. The courtship intensified in 1967, when the soapmen introduced wonder-cleaning enzymes with a splashy campaign. The enzymes were first promoted in "pre-soaks," in which they act the way stomach acids work on...

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