Why Procter & Gamble is putting more money behind Black creators and media
Procter & Gamble Co. is launching an expanded content and talent platform for Black creators to increase their work across the advertising, film and TV industries, part of the company's growing effort to diversify where it spends media and production dollars.
Widen The Screen, an umbrella under which P&G’s efforts to expand spending with Black-owned media also fits, kicked off with a film by the same name that premiered Saturday night during the 2021 NAACP Image Awards on ViacomCBS networks (watch below). The film was produced and created by a team of largely Black creators in collaboration with WPP’s Grey and Cartwright, directed by Oscar-nominated director Kevin Wilson, Jr. and narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Mahershala Ali.
The end line, “Let’s widen the screen to widen our view,” is the point of a growing number of P&G efforts to challenge expectations viewers have about Black stories and characters. The film seemingly sets up stereotypical portrayals, such as a Black single mother or crimes involving Black men, only to show very different themes of family events and camaraderie.
This summer, P&G will work with Black creatives and filmmakers in partnership with Black-owned production houses Spring Hill Entertainment and Saturday Morning to show a young boy’s journey to opportunities beyond athletics. Working with Saturday Morning, Tribeca and dozens of Black creatives, P&G is creating a series of what it describes as “life affirming” scripted stories, each told in exactly 8 minutes and 46 seconds—the length of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck when he killed Floyd last May.
And, in its third year, the P&G-backed Queen Collective, a multicultural talent development initiative involving Queen Latifah, Flavor Unit Entertainment and Tribeca Studios, will produce four documentary-style productions with women filmmakers, up from two each of the past two years.
Widen The Screen also encompasses efforts to support Black creators through programs including the Marcus Graham Project and the One Club for Creativity’s One School; continued support of talent development initiatives like Adcolor; and increasing investment in Black-owned and operated companies and media platforms. The effort will also include collaborations with majority-owned ad agencies (like Grey) to strengthen their inclusion efforts.
In an interview with Ad Age, P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard explains why the company is undertaking Widen The Screen, how the growing share of spending on digital media increases the challenges, and how P&G's relationship with one not-so-disadvantaged Black-owned production house—Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions—has created opportunities and shaped P&G's work.
What’s behind Widen The Screen?
What it’s about is really systemic change to address bias and inequality in advertising and media. It's really a significant expansion of the work that we've been doing for many years, and it's taken now a broader number of programs and a deeper number of partners and people, so we can have the multiplier effect of equality.
The whole point around widening the screen is to ensure the accurate portrayal of Black life, the full view of Black life, not just struggle or triumphs, which is the narrow view that has been depicted for many years, [but also] the full view of the beauty, joy and vastness of Black life.
Beyond that, we are also addressing systemic investment inequalities. We made this commitment last year. We are investing more in Black-owned and operated media. Obviously there are Black-operated businesses like BET, which has been a great partner. And then there are also Black-owned businesses like Central City Productions, American Urban Radio Networks, Urban One and [programmatic buying platform] Reset Digital. We built a whole ecosystem of Black-owned media companies to enable us to be able to make investments and build their business. And we’ve got a whole system [to increase work with] Black-owned and operated agencies.
It sounds like you’re creating a lot of feature-length or long-form content. Where will this work appear, and what’s the branding aspect?
Last year with The Queen Collective we ran those four films on BET. We’re going to be in conversations with BET but also with the broader ViacomCBS group. We’d love to ensure that this can get out on OTT and even network, because these films are high quality. We’ll be in conversations with multiple distribution companies, because we think that these warrant getting out in the world.
Pathmatics came to us with some data about CPG companies spending in minority-owned digital media. Looking at a breakdown for P&G and Unilever, it was clear you both have made investments and are trying, but it’s still a small percentage of the whole, even in just the open web, not counting all the spending on Google and Facebook. It seems like, whatever your intentions, just finding enough places to spend in Black-owned media gets harder as more money goes to digital, because there are fewer opportunities, even compared to TV, and especially compared to radio and print. So do you have to get involved in business development to build those opportunities?
You’ve got it. Last year, I think it was around June, I looked at our investment and said it's not enough. So I convened six CEOs from Black-owned and also Hispanic-owned companies, and I just talked with them. Sherman Kizart from the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters facilitated this discussion. And he said: “All of you big companies work with big broadcasters and big agencies and make big deals. And we don’t get a chance at that, even though many of our investments are more effective.” So I concluded the system isn’t really broken. It was just built that way. So we need to change the system.
So we took those six and expanded that to 20, and now we’re expanding it further to identify these companies and directly connect with them, doing what we do with the other big broadcasters to start the planning process, so we can make those investments—and that’s both broadcast and digital.
The other thing we’re doing in digital is helping build the programmatic capability with Charles Cantu and his team [at Reset Digital]. You build that system and build an audience that you can then go find on the open web. Basically it’s a systemic intervention to widen the media.
I don’t know that it’s related, but in the Harry and Meghan interview on CBS, which was a Harpo Productions effort, P&G had a sizable buy. I think it’s the first time the “Lead With Love” ad has run on TV, and other brands like Gillette were there. Now, that was a CBS buy, but obviously it was done with (and was a big payday for) Harpo Productions. I was wondering if Widen The Screen influenced that decision to buy, which turned out nicely ratings wise.
We've got a connection with CBS, and also we’ve got a deep connection with Ellen [Rakieten, executive producer at Harpo] so the lucky thing is we tend to know what's going on, which enables us the opportunity to be able to support programs like that.
Last year, you know, we aired “The Choice” [P&G ad on racial justice issues during another CBS special, “Where Do We Go From Here,” hosted by Winfrey; as well as corporate racial-justice ads “The Talk” and “The Look” on Gayle King-hosted CBS documentary “Justice For All” on the protests in the aftermath of Floyd’s death].
We literally sent “The Choice” to Oprah and asked her for her opinion, and also sent her “The Talk” and “The Look.” And she said, “I love this. This is good and is worthy.” She even gave us advice on how to make sure we capture the right idea, so we can both engage the white community to step up while also honoring and respecting the Black community.
The essence is when you widen the screen, widen your view and your partners, you really create new connections that are innovative. And that’s back to the purpose of why we’re doing this. When you have diversity in partners and in programs, it just accelerates creativity and innovation and opportunities. Had we not had those kinds of partnerships and relationships, with CBS and so on, we may have missed that opportunity.