CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/PROCTER & GAMBLE - P&G wakes up to flaws in its advertising strategy. A notoriously conservative client is opting for greater creativity. By Claire Cozens

’We want our agencies to have fun working on Procter & Gamble,’ was the enthusiastic message from Bob Wehling, senior vice-president, advertising at P&G in a statement designed to convey the soap powder giant’s new, improved approach to advertising. P&G. Fun? Surely not. Lucrative, yes. But fun?

’We want our agencies to have fun working on Procter & Gamble,’ was

the enthusiastic message from Bob Wehling, senior vice-president,

advertising at P&G in a statement designed to convey the soap powder

giant’s new, improved approach to advertising. P&G. Fun? Surely not.

Lucrative, yes. But fun?



It seems P&G has finally woken up to the fact that inventiveness sells

and putting a creative straitjacket on your agency can be

counter-productive.



The chief executives of seven of P&G’s agencies were summoned to the

company’s Cincinnati headquarters on 4 November to assess the first-year

results of the P&G Agency Relationship Renewal effort, which began a

year ago.



A team of representatives of P&G and its agencies have been looking at

how to make the company’s advertising more successful and have come up

with two key objectives: ’to deliver dramatic improvements in the

creative output of their (agencies’) collective efforts’ and to ’link

the financial rewards of P&G and its agencies to increased sales

growth’.



The move is a tacit acknowledgment that P&G’s advertising isn’t

working.



Several of its big brands are struggling and it is losing ground to its

arch-rival, Unilever. While Unilever has changed its advertising to suit

a more media-savvy generation of consumers, P&G has tended to stick to

tried and tested methods that simply communicate the functional benefits

of its products. It now wants advertising that connects emotionally with

consumers.



As one senior source at a P&G agency puts it, ’You can’t just stick two

white sheets up and hope that people will believe that the whiter one

has been washed in whatever detergent you are trying to sell. That might

have worked for the 50s housewife, but it won’t work for today’s

audience.’



The need for greater creativity is behind P&G’s decision to consider

relaxing its strict policy on client conflict. This would allow it to

work with creative hotshops in the same way as Unilever, which allocates

projects to a broader pool of agencies where something more courageous

is needed.



P&G is unlikely to work with any agencies on Unilever’s roster - the

main ones being Ammirati Puris Lintas, J. Walter Thompson,

McCann-Erickson and Ogilvy & Mather - but the move will allow it to work

with those that handle some rival brands. Under P&G’s existing conflict

policy, nearly all agencies in the UK are off-limits.



Sources have long said that P&G isn’t happy with the creative work it

gets from its four main agencies, Saatchi & Saatchi, Grey, DMB&B and Leo

Burnett, or with the time they take to create ads.



But P&G acknowledges it must take some of the blame for this. The strict

briefs it gives its agencies leave little room for originality and the

laboriously bureaucratic process of working with such a large company

inevitably stunts creativity. ’The exciting thing here is that P&G is

not just saying it wants better advertising - it is changing the way it

will work with its agencies to allow it to happen,’ Ed Meyer, chairman

and chief executive of Grey, says.



In last week’s statement, P&G announced plans to speed up the internal

decision-making process by using ’small, empowered teams’ and ’single

point decision making’. More impressively, it says it will ’reduce the

time it takes to create advertising to half the current development

cycle’.



There are already some signs of the new, more creative P&G in recent

campaigns. The latest Fairy Liquid ads, through Grey, feature children

making rockets out of the bottles, a far cry from Nanette Newman

reminding us how many dishes Fairy Liquid washes. And a recent campaign

for Oil of Ulay through Saatchis featured work from five women artists

who had used make-up as their inspiration.



P&G has already made some major changes in the past few months. Last

November it shocked the ad industry when it consolidated dollars 1.2

billion worth of media planning and buying in the US into TeleVest, the

sister US operation of MediaVest. And last month, it handed the bulk of

its pounds 200 million UK media account to Leo Burnett’s media

department and MediaVest, soon to merge to form StarVest.



P&G is already experimenting with different remuneration methods in the

US and wants to motivate its agencies to produce advertising that really

works by linking agency pay directly to its revenue. ’The systems we’ll

be testing are media neutral and will reward all successful businesses

building ideas,’ Kevin Roberts, chief executive of Saatchis, says.



The existing system, which is a straight commission on media billings,

encourages agencies to favour big television campaigns. P&G says it will

test two different payment systems over the next year, using seven of

its brands. Both systems are designed to create incentives for agencies

to come up with ideas that go beyond the 30-second TV commercial.



P&G insists its goal is to make its agencies more profitable, but the

news heralds a move towards a more aggressive way of dealing with

agencies.



Roster agencies are having to become more proactive and more

accountable.



As one senior agency source puts it, ’they are having a kind of internal

holocaust to get everyone running rather than walking’.



P&G is realising that the slick, expensive television commercials it has

traditionally favoured are not necessarily the best way of communicating

with today’s consumers. It is beginning to think more creatively about

the way it uses media as well as the ads themselves. P&G has already

stated its dedication to new media and has embarked on internet projects

to reach specific consumer groups.



It seems the world’s biggest advertiser has finally woken up to the fact

that its system is broken. As Gretchen Briscoe, P&G’s company

spokeswoman, says: ’The environment is changing more now than at perhaps

any other time. We need to be flexible, and we need to find a system

that works for P&G and for our agencies.’



The new P&G may not be welcomed by everyone. Creating safe advertising

may not be fun but it has in the past been a dependable source of income

for roster agencies. P&G’s agencies will have to work hard if they are

to avoid losing business to smaller, more experimental hotshops.





PROCTER & GAMBLE’S UK AGENCIES AND THEIR BRANDS

AGENCY                     BRANDS

Saatchi & Saatchi          Ariel, Pampers, Oil of Ulay, Sunny Delight,

                           Flash

DMB&B                      Crest, Always, Bounce, Dreft

Grey                       Fairy Liquid, Bold, Lenor, Ace, Cover Girl,

                           Hugo Boss, Pringles, Giorgio

Leo Burnett                Vidal Sassoon, Max Factor, Tambrands, Vicks,

                           Milton, Daz, Flash

Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper      Clearasil, Biactol, Old Spice



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