Exclusive: P&G storms French Riviera to soak up sun, 'learnings'

By Published on .

Day One

[Cannes, France] Like the Marines, when Procter & Gamble Co. lands, it goes in with overwhelming forces and a plan. P&G's beachhead at Cannes is no exception.

In its first-ever visit to the International Advertising Festival, P&G hit the French Riviera with a force of 28, not including companions, a legion of affiliated ad agency personnel and an embedded journalist.

At some companies, stationing such a large cadre of executives a stone's throw from the topless beaches of Cannes might create the faintest aroma of junket. But lest anyone get the idea that it's here for fun, P&G's contingent has come armed with journals that include detailed agendas marking off in military time both P&G events and "recommended Cannes seminars."

"Although P&G's presence at Cannes is surprising to many in the industry, and even to some of our colleagues at P&G, I believe it's consistent with our goals," says a preface from Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel in the journals.

Surprising indeed. P&G's agencies seldom submitted P&G work for Lions consideration, confided one agency executive, not necessarily because they didn't believe it would win, but because they didn't think the clients would care.

Au contraire! The newer, hipper, 21st-century P&G is coming to see creativity as another essential tool for winning the consumer. So the P&G party will not let Cannes "learnings," to use the company lingo, go to waste. The journals outline four objectives and eight questions for executives to frame note-taking and help "gather meaningful information and insight as we attend Cannes events and interact with other Cannes participants."

An early version of the agenda contained these time-management tips: "Please make every effort to attend all P&G events. Use open time to view shortlist of Print, [Direct Marketing] and Outdoor [Lion entries]. Also view all Film submissions in two or three of the 28 categories that are most relevant to your business."

Special forces from P&G's European headquarters in Geneva laid the groundwork, securing a map showing Cannes' hotels and other strategic sites and gathering intelligence on the indigenous population. Under "Suggested Attire," a note reads: "As it's Cannes and it's full of creatives, they all wear the same color (black). For most events, anything goes."

Lest it appear P&G is all work and no play, consider Question No. 8, to be deliberated at Saturday afternoon's debriefing: "Who has the best Cannes tan? Worst?"

Day Two

Despite the seeming culture clash, P&G is welcomed with open arms.

Mr. Stengel, who twice had been prominently featured on the front page of the Lions Daily, the festival's official publication, led the troops through two P&G-only agency receptions, hosted by Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett Co. and Grey Global Group, respectively.

Mr. Stengel in April called the Cannes trip a "bonding opportunity" for P&G and its agencies. And they bonded enthusiastically at agency parties. These, like other P&G events, are mandatory for the P&G contingent, noted Stephen Squire, an advertising development director from Geneva. But it was not a huge sacrifice. Mr. Stengel, who had vowed to drop in on the Grey party at the Martinez Hotel beachfront before heading off to the Lions Direct/Media Lions Award Ceremony, lingered nearly an hour.

In perhaps the ultimate proof that P&G alumni are ubiquitous, Cannes' mayor, Bernard Brochand, is an alum, as is the festival's chairman, Roger Hatchuel. Mr. Brochand helped launch P&G's Ariel detergent in France in 1968, unloading cases himself at stores because of a strike. Not to be outdone by his fellow alum, Mr. Hatchuel popped open some bottles of Dom Perignon for the P&G crew in a private reception prior to the "Presentation of 50 Years of Cannes Grand Prix."

If P&G had any worries that it would get the cold shoulder from the French in their maiden Cannes voyage, such acts of kindness put them to rest. They are, indeed, comfortable enough for some self-deprecating humor. At the Burnett party, Mathilde Delhoume, marketing director for baby care, joked that the contingent next year should come wearing T-shirts that say "I'm from P&G" on the front and "Where's the Demo Festival?" on the back.

But P&G's arrival in force at Cannes seems to be convincing people it has loosened up. "I've been told five times since I've been here that we're becoming a magnet client," Mr. Stengel told the P&G throng at a welcome meeting at a Hotel Majestic lounge. "The fact that we're here as a group is highly powerful. ... Our goal and our agencies' goal is to work with the best, and I think that's starting to take hold." As proof, he pointed to P&G agencies capturing two bronzes and one silver in Press & Poster Lions ceremonies the night before.

Several P&G-ers attended director Herman Vaske's mock film-noir mystery Who Killed the Idea? Several agreed with the conclusion of featured luminaries who fingered client committees as chief culprit. One P&G agency executive chimed in: "The brand manager did it."

Day 3

Cannes is known for the surreal quality that only thousands of global agency creatives descending on a small village for a week of indulgence, preening, posturing and peer review can produce. But perhaps none of this has quite the surreal professional kinkiness of what the seemingly conservative P&G did today in its quest for creativity. It allowed non-roster shops to critique its work.

All parties pulled it off. Kevin Roberts, CEO of Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, sat quietly beside sibling Leo Burnett Co.'s Chief Creative Officer Cheryl Berman. Nearby was Pierre Berville, President of Grey Global Group's Callegari Berville Grey, Paris.

Putting any speculation to rest, Mr. Stengel said at the outset: "We're not putting our account up for review. That's why our roster agencies are all here." Critiquing P&G's creativity were Jean Marie Dru, president of Omnicom Group's TBWA Boulogne Billancourte, Paris; Peter John Mahrenholz of Jung von Matt, Berlin; and, Publicis' Linda Kaplan Thaler, CEO of Kaplan Thaler Group.

The three "outside" creatives reviewed a one-hour reel for P&G's 15 biggest brands from its 10 biggest countries. "We wanted to show them what was on air," said Lynne Boles, manager-global advertising development of P&G, who put things frankly, in the style of her T-shirt reading "Sarcasm is one of the many services I offer."

"It's not a great reel, but it's a good reel," said Mr. Dru. Surprisingly, what he found most lacking were some of the selling lines and memorable campaigns for which P&G has been known through history. "There are four or five," he said. "But there should be seven or nine. ... What's missing are campaigns that are allowed to live over time."

"You have a lot of money," said Ms. Kaplan Thaler. "Sometimes that's great, but it also can be too easy." To encourage creativity, she often advises clients to "think like a pauper."

"You have assaulted my brain," said Mr. Jung, who was the harshest of the three. "The work is very professional, but it's not very stimulating. ... It's not confusing, but it's boring. ... You probably are the best marketing experts in the world. But in a way, you should forget about this. The consumer is king. And the consumer is the one who rates your ads. They're very demanding. They say `Don't bore me.' "

Mr. Stengel noted that he loves TBWA's work for Apple and asked what P&G could do to be more like Apple. Perhaps the most provocative response came from Ms. Kaplan Thaler, who said the CEO of AFLAC had been the champion of the "AFLAC duck" campaign when most of his subordinates hated it.

"P&G has a lot of empowerment of very junior people, and maybe they should be waiting and watching," she said, instead of making decisions on ads. "There's nothing on this reel you can't like, but maybe that's what the problem is. Great ideas are polarizing."

Mr. Stengel said he hopes his High Performing Marketing Organization program, emphasizing longer tenure in marketing jobs, will give managers at all levels more courage to make tough decisions. "We've been looking at whether there should be maybe a single [senior] decision maker and abolishing committees," he said. "If we want to get from good to great, we won't get there without change."

Mr. Stengel did get his Lion on June 19, one of five honorary awards given to advertisers who have won multiple Grand Prix awards over the past 50 years. But leaving the stage, he tripped, fell-and broke his Lion.

Most Popular
In this article: