13.2 C

    The ADvocates

    From shampoo to foot cream, Procter & Gamble meets personal needs from head to toe. The multibillion-dollar business’s products can be found in almost every room in the typical house, from the kitchen to the bathroom and the pantry to the walk-in closet.

    With a catalog of some of the world’s best-known everyday-life names—among them Ariel, Braun, Gillette, Old Spice, Pampers, Tide and more—the company’s success has been built on helping people look good, feel good and smell good. But it also has a reputation for doing good.

    Because “when you become a big company, you have an obligation to do more than just grow,” explains Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard. He tells of how the company established a community chest in Cincinnati, in the early days of its founding almost 200 years ago, to help underprivileged people.

    The founders wanted to help people get back on their feet, “because they knew that healthy, thriving communities were not only good for society, they were good for business,” says Pritchard. “Today, consumers we serve are asking for brands and companies to step up and provide improvements in social and environmental conditions, and they trust brands that do that more and more.”

    With that in mind, P&G’s considerable marketing power—it’s the largest advertiser in the world—isn’t just focused on promoting its products but championing the principles it holds dear, which include greater equality and inclusion.

    The company’s reach—some 5 billion people see a P&G ad every day—“gives us a responsibility and an obligation to use that advertising for good,” Pritchard says. “Advertising embeds memories into people’s minds that form perceptions, images and bias. So first and foremost, we make sure that we use our advertising in a way that provides the accurate portrayal of every person, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, religion, body type, age—accurate portrayal.”

    That commitment means “we never stereotype, objectify, diminish, denigrate, so people can see reality and they can see who people really are.”

    Attitude change
    P&G also uses its significant platform to spark conversations, such as with The Talk, a 60-second spot which won an Emmy in 2018. The mini-drama featuring Black moms speaking with their children about the prejudice they may face out in the world didn’t promote any P&G products, but rather aimed to provoke reflection under the hashtag #TalkAboutBias. The creative work, which would be followed by similar thought pieces, earned one of many honors that saw P&G named Brand Marketer of the Decade in 2020 at the Cannes Lions festival.

    “We use this as a way to be able to create conversation about things like bias, because conversation really leads to understanding,” says Pritchard. “Understanding then leads to attitude change and then attitude change can lead to action, to be able to promote equality.”

    While The Talk earned applause (and awards), it also received some pushback. Pritchard recalls going to P&G’s CEO to talk about the calls some people were making to have the ad pulled. “I said, ‘I don’t think we should do that,’ and he said, ‘You’re right, we’re standing by it.’ So that was a big deal.”

    In 2019, P&G followed The Talk with The Look, depicting a Black man (who, viewers discover at the end, is a court judge) encountering prejudicial stares and glances as he goes through his day. Less than two weeks after George Floyd’s murder in 2020, the company released The Choice, calling on white viewers to take action against racism and bias. “There are times when you need to take action,” says Pritchard.

    For Damon Jones, P&G’s Chief Communications Officer, The Talk and its follow-ups made such an impact because they were authentic and grounded in P&G’s long-admired consumer research. “The work has resonance largely because it’s designed to spark conversation that sparks dialogue that leads to understanding that leads to people changing their behavior,” he says. “You just can’t look at all of this work as the short-term, how much money can I make if I just do this thing? The challenges that we have are layered and complex and the solutions are layered and complex.”

    There’s nothing wrong with driving a brand connection, of course, “but you can’t let that brand connection overwhelm the message,” he adds. “That’s the classic battle with advertisers: you’ve got to know when is enough, but not too much.”

    While such sort of work may be driven by good intentions it also makes for good business. Better representing minority communities has improved market share for some P&G brands. Venus “used to be white women in bikinis on the beach,” Pritchard acknowledges, but has increased its diversity and narrowed its sales gap as a result. Then there is Old Spice, which Pritchard calls “a really good case study about why it’s important to really make sure you get [consumer] insight.”

    When the Old Spice team did some research, it found Black consumers did not appreciate the way they were being represented. “They wanted to see Black men as they are—sophisticated and smooth, not brash and loud.” Changing the advertising approach led to a significant increase in sales.

    Virtuous cycle
    It’s not just about advertising, however. Because consumers don’t just want to be targeted; they want companies to really understand them and meet their needs, says Jones. “What some of our brands have done is they’ve had to go back in and say, ‘What are the true needs of a Black consumer that might be different than a white consumer?’”

    He points to P&G’s Pantene Gold Series, by way of example, “uniquely meeting the needs for Black women’s hair because they recognize washing your hair as a Black woman is a totally different experience than it is for white women. So, let’s not try to not talk about it. Let’s fully embrace it, fully talk about it. And then when you get over some of that, ‘Oh, we really can’t talk about differences,’ then you can really treat people in the fullness of their humanity.”

    P&G’s work to change the face of advertising to make it more inclusive extends to those behind the camera, as well as in front of it. Other P&G initiatives include Widen the Screen, promoting opportunities for Black film creators, and the Queen Collective, in collaboration with Queen Latifah, providing a platform for female Black filmmakers.

    Part of reason for the lack of more Black-owned media is that advertisers, collectively, haven’t invested enough to help the market grow, says Jones. “We have not done enough to help multicultural people grow in the creative industry and we now need a deliberate investment of talent, resources and broad assistance to get that going the way it needs to be.”

    To help lead the way, P&G has made a commitment to double its level of investment with Black-owned media, creating a partnership development fund to help develop content. “Because when you have great content, you can draw more eyeballs,” Jones says. “When you have more eyeballs, you can drive more advertising. When you have more advertising commitments over time, you can build greater content. So it becomes a virtuous cycle.

    “But all of these challenges start with a recognition of where are we? And we have to say, we’re not where we need to be as a company and an industry. And when you do that, then you can say, ‘OK’, as Marc always says, ‘What are you going to go do about it?’”

    Black-owned and -targeted media accounts for only 1-2% of the entire media industry, notes Pritchard—a long way from the 13% of the American population that is Black. Correcting that imbalance “requires investment in programming, content to create advertising, it requires investment in directors, producers, production companies,” he says. “We are absolutely committed to making a difference here, and that is going to be good for everyone. It’s going to be good for the industry. It’s going to be good for the Black community and it’s going to be good for business—and it’s the right thing.”

    From an interview with Louis Carr

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