Procter & Gamble isn't so sure about ads anymore, but has content aplenty
Just a few years ago, Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard poked fun at all the talk about “content,” pointing out it was ultimately advertising. Now, he’s not so sure about doing advertising anymore, which is remarkable given that P&G reported $7.1 billion of spending on it last fiscal year.
“We’re here to reinvent advertising as we know it,” Pritchard said in an interview, noting that 70 percent of people say they don’t like advertising. And he spent much of the week at Cannes talking alternatives, including at more than a dozen public appearances in official and fringe events.
This includes working with Arianna Huffington’s behavioral health venture Thrive Global to create “habit stacking.” As Pritchard describes it, that might include getting people to think about three things they’re grateful for every morning when they’re brushing their teeth (with Crest,) or getting John Legend to induce dads to sing to their babies when they change their (Pampers) diapers, reducing stress levels and cortisol at the same time. Or it could be people thinking about how they’re going to “crush it” later in the day at work when they’re putting on Old Spice deodorant."When you think about it, it could replace ads," Pritchard says. “Rather than constant reminders interrupting you, these micro-steps become habits that replace advertising.”
Well, maybe. There’s still that part about how you communicate those new habits to people, or get them to incorporate these new daily rituals into their bathroom routines, or for that matter how this might apply to other P&G brands, such as Charmin. And clearly P&G will still be buying ads for a while. Among Pritchard's Cannes stops was the FQ Lounge to talk about improvements in the Gender Equality Measures of P&G's ads and another to announce a new ad deal with Quibi, albeit with limited ad loads around short-form content.
But moving away from ads was only one way P&G showed a willingness to move beyond its old business models.The P&G Lifelab display at Cannes showed an Oral-B Sense toothbrush that uses sensors linked via wifi to tell whether you’re brushing thoroughly and send text reports to your phone. The product will launch in September direct to consumers, rather than to stores, backed by Thrive Global.
P&G also showed off its SK-II Future X store that can be fully automated, with a facial diagnostic center that computes skin age and recommends products, plus displays that track eye movement to pop-up descriptions and usage tips for products that attract your gaze.
SK-II doesn’t advertise on TV, but it’s leaning more heavily on celebrities, incorporating James Corden, John Legend, Naomi Watanabe and Tang Wei into a “Pitera Masterclass” series of funny videos about the active ingredient in the skincare product. In one, Legend sings a song he made up incorporating five words, including mineral water and fermentation, that are central to the SK-II story.“What that means is really blending the ad world with new creative worlds like filmmaking and music and comedy and journalism and creating totally new experiences,” Pritchard says.
The company’s stable of original content and social advocacy messages grew considerably at Cannes, including the premiere of “Out of the Shadows” from CNN’s Great Big Story, the second part of a series that began last year about the struggle of gay P&G employees to win equal rights and benefits in the 1990s.
Pantene also launched a new take on its old “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful” ads of the 1980s. The new version from Grey is a “Don’t Hate Me. I’m Beautiful” anthem to express support for LGBTQ+ buyers.
While much of this may seem to not directly sell products, P&G also showed such programs can morph into more traditional product brands, even if as the advocacy goes on.Last year, “The Talk,” a film created for P&G’s My Black Is Beautiful marketing program, won a Film Grand Prix at Cannes. This year, My Black Is Beautiful is going beyond a corporate marketing effort to launch a line of hair-care products.
Besides products, something else was missing from the brand – dads. Black men didn’t show up in “The Talk,” something that created some controversy and which Pritchard acknowledges was an oversight.
So this year at Cannes, P&G showed a sneak peek at “The Look,” a follow-up that launches online June 26. The video comes from Keith Cartwright, one of the founding members of the Saturday Morning collective and executive creative director at 72andSunny. It shows the looks of disdain or suspicion a black man encounters from white people at a restaurant, in a pool and in a store among other places, before he gets more approving looks as he enters a courtroom as a judge.
And “The Look” is more than a film. P&G has enlisted Legend to talk about it on Spotify and worked with Verizon Media and Riot to create a virtual-reality experience. The latter shows people what it’s like to get “The Look” themselves. The VR units also made their way to the BET Experience show in Los Angeles on Friday and will go on tour in communities nationwide, Pritchard says, “because that’s where a difficult discussion about racial bias belongs.”