P&G, Unilever ads get grip on reality with home videos

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Watch out "Survivor," package-goods giants are bringing reality-based TV to their advertising. Procter & Gamble Co. and Unilever are building on ad efforts focused around actual home videos.

An ad for P&G's Bounty paper towels, running since last month from Jordan McGrath Case & Partners/Euro RSCG, New York, uses home video footage of a little boy pouring the contents of a half-gallon orange juice container into a glass and mostly onto his kitchen floor.

Similarly, an ad started earlier this spring for Unilever's All laundry detergent from J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, shows a home video of a little boy and his pet rottweiler. In it, the boy uses a sand shovel to throw dirt on his dog, which flings dirt back at him.

Both brands like the approach well enough to plan additional such ads and solicit more home videos from consumers.

HOME VIDEO CONTEST

Unilever launched a home video contest July 9. Bounty also plans to solicit home videos for future ads through its soon-to-be-refurbished Bounty Web site (bountyfamily.com).

The Bounty video fits with the brand's long-running "Little Kids Big Spills" campaign and originated with the creative team at Jordan McGrath, said Tarang Amin, marketing director for Bounty. Initial consumer feedback through calls to P&G's consumer affairs department has been positive, he said.

"The beauty of it is that we found consumers are very capable of making the connection between that kind of monster spill [shown on the video] and Bounty's ability to come to the family's rescue," Mr. Amin said.

While home video footage -- which offers a more inexpensive avenue for producing commercials -- circumvents the current actors strike, that wasn't the motivation, Mr. Amin said. He noted that the idea originated last winter before the strike began. Unilever did not comment on its motivations surrounding the All advertising.

SLICES OF LIFE

Slice-of-life has been a staple of package-goods advertising for decades, but using genuine slices of life from real consumers has better potential for hitting the "that's me" button for consumers, said Jim Ebel, president of CenterBrain, a positioning consultancy. "It could help consumers identify with the brand," he said.

"A home movie has a distinct look and a certain amount of realism," said Kevin Keller, professor of marketing at the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. "It doesn't come across as contrived."

Aside from building on the success of shows such as "America's Funniest Home Videos," the P&G and Unilever ads jibe with the current TV programming trend of reality-based shows, including CBS' "Survivor." Unfortunately, like the current wave of movie-style letterbox ads and earlier "shaky-cam" commercials, home video ads could get old very fast, Mr. Keller said.

Involving consumers in the creative process, however, could have staying power, he said, referring to an approach also used by Urban Juice & Soda Co. in putting photos submitted by consumers on labels of Jones Soda.

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