Procter & Gamble Co. has charged global archrival Unilever with ''serious illegal and unfair'' trade practices in a complaint filed with Argentina's equivalent of the Federal Trade Commission.
Specifically, P&G accuses Unilever of intimidating and buying off trade customers in an attempt to block the distribution and sale of Procter brands in Argentina. Unilever also is trying to block P&G's planned introduction of its top-selling laundry detergent there by allegedly financing a deceptive ad campaign, Procter charges.
P&G routinely tries to work out problems with competitors before seeking government intervention, company spokesman Terry Loftus said, ''but our attempt to seek cooperation from (Unilever) resulted in no action or remedy.''
Procter's Argentinian branch Wednesday urged the National Office for the Defense of Competition to investigate whether Unilever has been offering trade customers money or special agreements to force them to stop buying P&G's Duplex Miniespuma laundry detergent.
According to Procter, Unilever has warned retailers that it could greatly reduce or eliminate its investment in other products if they refuse. ''Given the size and volume of Unilever's business in Argentina, several trade customers have been forced to accept'' to survive, P&G said.
P&G also asked the National Office to investigate an ad campaign recently initiated for Ariel toilet seats using the slogan, ''Ariel, synonym for toilets.''
The campaign comes as Procter readies the introduction of its Ariel laundry detergent brand in Argentina. Available in Latin America, Asia and parts of Europe, Ariel is Procter's biggest detergent brand, even topping Tide.
Procter notes that the maker of the similarly named toilet seats, Ariel del Plata, has never advertised in its 30 years on the market and that the campaign is very expensive for a company its size. The campaign was created by Lintas, which handles Unilever's advertising. Calls to Unilever's U.S. operation were referred to spokesman John Gould, who could not be reached.
Since 1990, P&G has invested more than $200 million in Argentina and employs 1,400 in the country.