P&G CEO to ANA: Just Let Go

A.G. Lafley Tells Marketers to Cede Control to Consumers to Be 'In Touch'

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ORLANDO, Fla. ( -- Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley urged marketers to "let go" of their brands and bow to consumer wants and needs in his kickoff to the Association of National Advertisers conference here today.

The cry was somewhat unexpected, coming from the chief of the consumer-goods marketer and advertising titan well known for carefully controlling perceptions of its sprawling collection of brands.

Mr. Lafley, who last spoke at an ANA conference in 2000, hit on many of the same themes that he took up then, especially that of the consumer being boss, and he even reprised a handful of campaigns that had been shown at previous ANA meetings by his colleagues.

But his repeated refrain that we now live in a "let-go world" was refreshing. He said that thanks to 30 or so years of media fragmentation and the more recent rise of user-generated content, marketers were most likely to succeed and be "in touch" when they let consumers be in control.

"Consumers are more participative and selective and the trend from push to pull is accelerating," said Mr. Lafley, the keynote speaker to a conference that has pulled in around 1,000 attendees, including more than 400 marketers.

He showed a Pringles spot made by a teen from the U.K. and distributed on YouTube -- and in, pure P&G fashion, he even set up a matrix including two axis, "in control" and "in touch," in which in-touch is a function of how much control marketers cede.

Mr. Lafley's address is probably better understood as a strong articulation of well-known marketing realities than anything groundbreaking. It was a perhaps too-thorough march through P&G's marketing mix and flogged the audience with case studies on what felt like the entire portfolio of P&G brands. Still, if P&G is starting to preach the gospel of letting go, even the world's more conservative marketers are bound to sit up and take notice.

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