The comments came as P&G issued quarterly results that, while meeting or exceeding its stated goals, failed to impress the market. P&G shares were down 2.2% to $62.95 today. Morgan Stanley analyst Bill Pecoriello said in a research note that P&G's trade-up of consumers to higher-priced items and its margins both were lower than he had expected.
Maintaining sales growth
Speaking on a conference call for analysts, Chief Financial Officer Clayton Daley said, "For fiscal-year 2008, the priority for the company is to sustain strong sales growth. As such, we plan to invest in our leading brand equities. We plan to launch a strong initiative program."
Later, Mr. Daley made it clear P&G will be willing to sacrifice margin improvements if required for the sake of top-line growth. He said if P&G can meet its double-digit earnings-per-share growth goal "with more sales growth and less margin expansion, that's OK. ... I don't want to imply that we are going to do anything to try to hold back sales growth."
While P&G may be looking to spend more aggressively in fiscal 2008, it appears to be pulling back on measured media right now in what Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley termed a shift toward the internet and "nonmeasured media."
"If you step back and look at our [marketing] mix across most of the major brands, it's clearly shifting, and it's shifting from measured media to in-store, to the internet and to trial activity," Mr. Lafley said. The latter he didn't define precisely, though he gave Gillette sampling programs, which include distribution of free razors by mail, as one example. On Gillette Fusion razors, he said, "you are going to see ... more sampling, because we still have relatively low trial rates."
Though it's impossible to measure how much P&G is spending in-store, as much of it is accounted for as deductions against net sales, data from TNS Media Intelligence do appear to indicate a pullback in measured media spending in its fiscal first quarter. P&G spent $459.9 million in January and February according to TNS, excluding newspaper inserts, a run rate that, if sustained over a full year, would trim P&G's measured spending 17.5% in 2007.
But the proportion P&G spent on TV in January and February -- 70.4% -- is in line with proportions the company has had for years and last year's 69.9%. P&G's spending on internet display ads inched up to 2.1% of its outlay in the first two months of 2007 vs. 1.6% last year.
Efficiency in TV
"We are still investing a lot in television, because, especially in developing markets, it's a hell of an efficient investment," Mr. Lafley said.
Overall, he said P&G ad spending as a percent of sales was "about 10%" in the fiscal third quarter, about where it was last year.
The talk comes after two consecutive years in which P&G has trimmed reported advertising spending as a share of sales, which peaked at 10.7% in 2004 and slid to 9.9% of sales last fiscal year.
It's not clear where that number will end up in fiscal 2007, as P&G officials have declined to provide specifics and won't report the number until after the fiscal year closes. But Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel and Mr. Lafley have said in investor presentations late last year that they were more concerned with advertising effectiveness and brand equity than with ad-spending-to-sales ratios. P&G's trims in ad-spending ratios also have come as rising raw-material costs have pressured margins in recent years.
P&G reported sales up 8% to $18.7 billion, up 6% organically, or excluding acquisitions, divestitures and currency effects. Earnings per share rose 17% to 74 cents. Both numbers were helped by a weakening dollar, which added two percentage points to sales, and by a relatively weak year-ago performance, when P&G's top line and profits were pressured by consolidation of distributors for newly acquired Gillette and apparently temporary weakness in Russia and China.
Beauty biz not so pretty
While the fabric and home-care business led growth, with sales up 12% (10% organically) the beauty business trailed the company as a whole and rival L'Oreal with organic sales growth of 5%.
P&G also reported relatively weak results in three more areas. Gillette's blades and razor business had only 4% organic-sales growth, despite comparison to a year-ago period hurt by sales lost as distributors were consolidated in China and despite much stronger growth reported last week by rival Energizer Holdings' Schick. Organic sales for the Braun and Duracell businesses, acquired along with Gillette in October 2005, were flat. And sales for the pet food, snack and coffee business declined 1%, hurt by the Iams and Eukanuba pet-food recall, whose impact P&G declined to specify.
Toothpaste spending pays off
One area where P&G ad spending has been unrestrained -- U.S. toothpaste -- appears to be seeing some strong results, and Mr. Lafley claimed P&G has taken broad market leadership in the U.S. toothpaste market.
He noted that in 1998, the first full year after Colgate Total was launched in the U.S., Colgate had a 27% toothpaste while P&G had a 25%-plus share. Last quarter, he said P&G had a 38% in all outlets, including Wal-Mart, club and dollar stores not measured by syndicated services, compared to 32% for Colgate, he said.
"There is plenty of room," he said, "for our principal competitor to grow and for us to grow in the oral-care business."