It would have been hard to imagine 10 years ago, before Procter & Gamble Co.made its first mass pilgrimage of marketers to Cannes, a chief marketer from the buttoned-down company on the dais to deliver a liberation manifesto for the creative class.
Yet that's what P&G Global Brand Building Officer Marc Pritchard did Thursday at the International Advertising Festival. He argued for a fundamental reworking of mind-numbingly complex creative briefs, an end to slavish reliance on copy-test scores and empowering marketing executives to take risks and say yes to big ideas they know in their guts will work. All of this, it's worth noting, came in a relaxed style and with remarkable comedic timing that included a masterfully executed double entendre between wiping posteriors and kitchen counters. This from a career P&G executive who started in finance.
The only thing undermining the message at all, context-wise, was that Mr. Pritchard's boss, Chairman-CEO Bob McDonald, stopped Wednesday in Paris, presumably on his way to Cannes, to drop a rather unpleasant-smelling message aimed at Wall Street. That message: P&G is taking down its earnings guidance for the fiscal fourth quarter ended June 30 and the full upcoming fiscal year thanks to a combination of factors within and outside its control.
Those include a stronger dollar, which strengthens P&G's largely Europe-based global competitors, and an overall weaker top line driven by everything from that dollar issue to lackluster innovation and consumers resisting paying price premiums for P&G products.
Mr. Pritchard didn't address that part. Nor did he appear in the IAF press room for a speakers' briefing (Selena Gomez and many others skipped this, too). And his tight Cannes schedule at this point didn't permit an interview this week. But from the stage, he did make the best case possible for P&G's new-age approach to better creative work, which has won the company numerous honors at Cannes so far this year and in past years.
While P&G has many big brands that are scuffling on the market-share front recently, Febreze, one of the best examples of P&G's liberated creative approach, isn't one of them. Mr. Pritchard evoked laughs with a video behind Grey Global Group's making of a classic product-demo ad for Febreze showing blindfolded consumers smelling the shoes, sweaty towels and unitards of Azerbaijani Olympic wrestlers, and comparing the smell to flowers and "the smell of pink."
Work like that, he said, has come from P&G starting to transform how it works with agencies. "We're taking a hard look at one of the major freedom killers -- the creative brief," he said. Agency executives, when he looked into the issue, admitted they'd been ignoring most of the six-page or longer creative briefs P&G sent over, waiting for account people to translate them into something comprehensible.
And no wonder. Here's a snippet from one brief he shared: "Create awareness among occasional users to drive consumer value by telling them the benefit of winning the lime-scale deposit battle." "Not very inspiring, is it?" Mr. Pritchard said.
He said P&G has replaced the brief with the "business challenge." For the recent launch of Tide Pods, for example, he said the company replaced its dense briefs with a simple directive: "Make Tide Pods irresistible." The result was a "Pop Goes the World" campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi showing vivid colors and pop art on the way to making the liquid-gel laundry tablets look fun, cool and convenient.
Mr. Pritchard also acknowledged the company's rigid adherence to copy testing can lead "to the worst possible outcome for clients -- creative who stop bringing their best ideas, and, understandably, give us what they think we'll buy."
He added: "I like to tell people you need to inspire creative work that is so brilliant you're willing to bet your career on it."
And while P&G agency executives may have numerous examples of cases where P&G people still require minimum copy-test scores to greenlight work and aren't willing to bet their careers on much of anything, Mr. Pritchard drew on his own example in greenlighting work from Wieden (by agreement not tested in the concept phase) behind the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and upcoming 2012 London summer games.