BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Sports marketing has been growing at Procter & Gamble Co. for years, and particularly since it acquired Gillette five years ago. P&G's biggest sports effort to date comes with the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where 18 brands are combining with the corporate brand in an effort that also includes P&G's first corporate TV ad in the U.S.
It's the biggest corporate-marketing event ever, though it builds on more than a decade of increasing multibrand marketing efforts that include companywide coupon circulars and websites and retail promotions. An extensive digital, print, consumer-promotion and in-store program rounds out the campaign.
Leading the effort in the role of brand manager is Global Brand-Building Officer Marc Pritchard, who gave independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., its first corporate assignment, which included a tear-jerker of a commercial that aired during the opening ceremonies on Friday. But virtually every P&G agency is involved in some way in the effort, based on its scope.
The "Thanks, Mom" idea isn't entirely new: Johnson & Johnson used a different take on the theme for its baby-care brand during the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. But the scale of P&G's involvement -- which includes $3,000 stipends to help families attend the Winter Games and an extensive branded family center in Vancouver -- is far more ambitious than prior package-goods sponsorships.
In an interview with Advertising Age, Mr. Pritchard describes how this is the first of a growing wave of multi-brand ideas for P&G.
Ad Age: How and why have you made the Winter Olympics into a corporate branding effort?
Mr. Pritchard: We put this together thinking about our purpose of how we can touch and improve the lives of moms and families everywhere. The great thing about the Olympics is that it's the No. 1 sport for interest among women, and 76% of American households watch it. So it's the perfect place for P&G to be.
We then secured a sponsorship a little over a year ago. Lisa Baird, the chief marketing officer of the Olympics, came to visit while we were working on some early plans, and she and I started to talk about maybe a bigger platform to unite the purpose of P&G with the purpose of the Olympics to come up with an overarching idea. And she sent me a couple of other examples from some other Olympic programs.
Folks from Wieden & Kennedy came to us with some ideas coming out of a challenge I'd given to all of our agency partners at a summit.
We started thinking that P&G as a brand really could unite some of the individual brands into an overarching idea, and hence came the "Thanks, Mom" campaign. We've got 18 brands with 16 athletes involved this, so the high-performance brands are supporting the high-performance athletes with unique Olympic programs.
For example, Pampers is doing one behind the new Dry Max initiative, which is the new diaper that's 20% thinner and 20% more absorbent. The idea is that it's a high-performance diaper for the best players in the world -- babies -- tied in with [skaters] Chad Hedrick and Noelle Pikus-Pace.
We found out, believe it or not, that a lot of moms cannot make it to the Olympic games. We couldn't stand by that. So we offered them assistance to be here.
Ad Age: Doing corporate [TV ads] is new for P&G in the U.S. Why did you decide to try it?
Mr. Pritchard: [Chairman-CEO Bob McDonald has] talked about our purpose-inspired strategy, talking about this higher meaning of touching and improving lives. We thought if we can find something that unites these brands in such a way behind the P&G name that can be pretty powerful.
We've found a lot of times that when people know a brand is from P&G they feel better about the brand. And when they know P&G has all these brands, they feel better about P&G.
Ad Age: Why is P&G doing more sports sponsorship?
Mr. Pritchard: One reason is that we found sports is a great way to get families together. People like to watch sports together. Women are avidly watching these sports -- things like Nascar, the NFL, NCAA. It's been a bit overlooked by marketers, which is one reason we thought it would be smart of us to get into it in a bigger way.
Ad Age: Is there some value in sports, too, because they're relatively DVR-proof?
Mr. Pritchard: Yeah, that's a good point. People are pretty engaged in sports. We really have found when people are engaged in a program, you see a higher interest in the brands. You've also seen that they sometimes will remember the brand better or have a more favorable impression of it.
Ad Age: Media seemingly has gotten cheaper in a lot of cases, but isn't sports something of an exception because more companies want to pile in?
Mr. Pritchard: I'm not sure about the history. But networks like NBC have actually been pretty cooperative about working with us on it. We're actually getting some great coverage here for a good value. We're getting some good integrations, too. Just this morning two of our moms who were part of the "Thanks, Mom" gift were on NBC's "Today." And we've got some other integrations planned over the next couple of weeks.
With this integration, both with the brands and P&G, it is TV, print, in-store, digital and whole bunch of PR and natural, authentic program integration.
Ad Age: In the past, I think J&J and Kimberly-Clark had the [U.S. Olympic Committee] sponsorships, and you guys took out that whole role this time. How competitive was it, and how did the decision come down?
Mr. Pritchard: We worked this a little over a year ago, and I think the USOC has always been interested in working with companies like P&G. This time we really took it upon ourselves to make sure we made the commitment. They not only got us the deal, but they also made it worthwhile. They were the ones who gave us the insight that moms couldn't make it to the Olympics. Lisa and I got together early on and thought maybe we should think about a bigger idea.
Ad Age: You're the brand manager on this, right? How does it feel to be back in the saddle again?
Mr. Pritchard: That's right. That's exactly the way we dealt with this one. We brought multiple brands together, and you kind of need a brand manager, so I played that role this time. I do have to say it's been a lot of fun. It's been an incredibly rewarding experience.
Ad Age: For Wieden & Kennedy, this has been a chance for them to move beyond their main original assignment with P&G, Old Spice. Despite the seeming success there, they haven't gotten that many lasting additional assignments with P&G. Do you think this will make a difference there?
Mr. Pritchard: I don't know about picking up additional brands. But I will say this is one of the things I'm asking all of our agencies to do -- to give us ideas that can span multiple brands. And Wieden, I have to say, took the initiative to do that on this one. I think there's a good opportunity for us to come up with ideas from all of our agencies that span multiple categories.