Strange territory indeed for a company associated with plodding demonstration-and-comparison ads rather than breakthrough creative. Perhaps P&G's closest brush with a Gold Lion came two years ago for an ad that never made it beyond test market.
How ironic, then, that at its alumni reunion in Cincinnati (see story, at left) served to showcase the marketer's new thinking.
During a workshop titled "Advertising that Works (And Keeps on Working"), legendary former P&G ad executives Norm Levy and Gibby Carey, who over more than two decades drummed P&G advertising wisdom into generations of marketing executives, appeared alongside Global Marketing Officer Mr. Stengel. In the presentation, Mr. Stengel gently disagreed with Mr. Levy's assertion that entertainment appeal is nice, but unnecessary. "In a media environment where consumer choices are growing all the time, I think it's going to become more important to appeal to consumers on many levels," Mr. Stengel said.
Mr. Carey had earlier noted he's come away with one overriding impression from outside consulting after P&G. "I was amazed," he said, "by how poorly other companies do advertising."
Contrast that with Mr. Stengel, who has been asking his agencies for case studies on how other advertisers succeed. That's also his purpose in going to Cannes.
"I'm asking a very top-level creative who is not at one of our agencies to look at our reel and to hold a seminar [at Cannes] for us and tell us honestly what he thinks," Mr. Stengel said in an interview.
Mr. Stengel and other P&G executives also will hold a seminar at the close of the International Advertising Festival to "debrief on what struck us, what was hot, what was not, and how it affects us." Then they will head to Geneva, where they'll Webcast their report to P&G's 3,500-plus marketers.
That's a huge leap for P&G, and more closely mimics rival Unilever, a constant presence at Cannes.
Mr. Stengel believes P&G's creative effort already has made strides in recent years. But he wants to make it better. "I do think the work is more vibrant," he said. "It is a little more ... creative, likable, watchable, has more humanity."
In some cases, a lot more humanity. As Grey Global Group Exec VP Neil Kreisberg commented, after flashing at the reunion a U.K. commercial for P&G's Lacoste men's fragrance featuring a frolicking naked man, "P&G has learned there are parts of the body besides the head." (See the spot at AdAge.com QwikFIND aao15e.)
Grey, in fact, was honored as P&G's "creative team of the year" last year, the first time P&G handed out the award. While much of the ad world may still see the honor as akin to winning a beauty contest in a leper colony, Mr. Kreisberg begs to differ. "Now we're proud to have P&G commercials on our reel," he said.
Of course, while fine fragrance makes up 0.5% of P&G's sales, the division produces approximately 20% of the ads P&G features in advertising forums. For almost everything else, Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley is pushing hard for ads that prominently feature demonstrations, hard benefits and side-by-side comparisons.
But P&G is looking for new ways to make demonstrations work creatively. Or at least emotionally. In some of the first work by Publicis Groupe's Publicis Worldwide, New York, since taking over the account this year, a soon-to-break ad shows a wet Bounty towel holding up a bowling ball, which breaks through an unnamed competitor's towel. "Some names have been changed out of sheer politeness," reads a tagline, referring to the competitor.
Getting P&G managers, most of them trained under Messers. Levy and Carrey, to take creative risks is an emerging art. But keeping P&G managers in jobs longer will encourage risk taking, Mr. Stengel said.