’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
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
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
The move is a tacit acknowledgment that P&G’s advertising isn’t
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
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
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
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
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
Roster agencies are having to become more proactive and more
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
Saatchi & Saatchi Ariel, Pampers, Oil of Ulay, Sunny Delight,
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