Procter & Gamble has changed. The world’s leading proponent of
functional ads based on the logical principles of product demonstration,
has gone touchy-feely. It’s an awesome spectacle, a bit like watching
Star Trek’s Mr Spock skip around the Starship Enterprise,
head-over-heels in love.
The first sign that something was up came last May when P&G unveiled a
new commercial for Bounty paper towels in the US. Earth shattering? In
its own small way, it was. Because for the last eight years, Bounty ads
have consistently followed a single theme. Mother finds her son has
spilled a glass of juice, and mops it up with Bounty. Next, a
side-by-side product demonstration featuring a close-up of the Bounty
logo. Effective, perhaps, but hardly inspiring.
In the new ads, the mother was replaced by the father who deliberately
knocks over his own juice to make the lad feel better. And what’s more,
the Bounty logo remained all but invisible until the ad’s closing
seconds -virtually unheard of in P&G advertising.
’We looked at our agencies’ reels and said: ’Hey, they’re not doing
their best work for us.’ We need to find a way of breaking through the
clutter,’ a senior P&G executive explained at the time. ’And we
recognise the opportunity to use emotion and drama in our advertising as
a way to prevent people from hitting the channel changer.’
Since then, P&G has steadily rolled out this new emotional attitude
around the globe. In the UK, there’s been ground-breaking work on Fairy
Liquid, through Grey Advertising. No more lectures from Nanette Newman
showing how many dishes Fairy can wash. Instead, we get a cute film
about children making rockets out of the bottles.
More recently, Saatchi & Saatchi created a Head & Shoulders commercial
using the masked hero, Zorro, replacing the too-familiar idea of washing
half the head in Head & Shoulders and the other half in some
competitor’s inferior product.
The new Ariel campaign ditched the old ’two Cs in a K’ (two, er, women
in a kitchen) for a series of amusing vignettes. In one, for example, a
couple of DIY decorators can’t find any tatty clothes to paint in
’because thanks to Ariel their entire wardrobe looks bright and new,’ so
they strip off to the horror of a nosy neighbour.
The trend is the same elsewhere. In Scandinavia (the third creative
development centre, alongside the US and the UK) P&G claims to have paid
closer attention than ever to casting actors with whom Scandinavian
consumers can identify.
All these developments take place against a vigorous battle for global
business. John Pepper, president of Cincinnati-based P&G, has set the
ambitious target of doubling the company’s turnover to dollars 70
billion by the middle of the next decade. To address this, he’s created
seven global business units for categories that include home care and
baby care, and set about aligning brands with global agencies. Meanwhile
arch-rival, Unilever, is gearing up to push its global brands such as
Persil, Timotei and Impulse into market dominance.
For both companies, there are problems. How can they be global yet
retain emotional bonds with local consumers? Agency chiefs insist that
globalisation is not a problem. ’Procter is beginning to manage
categories rather than geographies,’ one says.
’It’s about understanding the detergent business rather than
understanding Portugal. P&G is not a niche company and you can always
find similarities between cultures. If you are working on hair
colourants or sanpro, there are basic needs for these products.’
Jim Allman, a Unilever multi-national client director at Ammirati Puris
Lintas, explains the company’s approach to its pounds 3.3 billion
advertising budget: ’Our Axe (Lynx) advertising, for example, is running
in 18 European countries with no changes at all. There are certain
pieces of com-munication that travel like gangbusters. Unilever has a
multi-local approach built on worldwide insights which can filter down
into local needs.’ Allman adds that Unilever is not being outdone by P&G
in the emotional stakes. ’We are not benchmarking ourselves against our
competitors. We want to be in the forefront.’
In Brazil, Unilever’s Omo washing powder brand uses an entertaining
twist on the housewives-in-the-kitchen formula. In these ads, real-life
women use home videos to explain how Omo improves their lives. ’What we
are seeing is a brand staying as close as possible to its core essence
but evolving over time,’ Allman says.
And in the UK, Unilever has experimented with creative hotshops such as
HHCL, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Mother. Even giant agencies have been
allowed to make likeable ads for likeable products - as in the classy
’dalmation’ commercial made for Persil almost three years ago by J
Walter Thompson in the UK.
P&G, by contrast, has traditionally concentrated on ensuring its
products are the best on the market. Advertising, it seemed, could rely
on this single factor.
Except it’s hard to demonstrate technological superiority these days,
the head of one British P&G agency says. ’The product has always been
king, but that’s getting harder and harder to prove. Consumers want
relevant products that answer their needs. But those needs must be
packaged in a way that makes them feel good.’
Rupert Howell, a managing partner of HHCL, which works on Unilever
accounts such as Birds Eye, says: ’Unilever has understood the power of
emotion as long as I’ve been in the business.
P&G, on the other hand, worked on the premise they were demonstratively
superior and that you should show that in your advertising. I remember
one scientist saying, ’Why would anyone buy Persil when Ariel worked
better?’ But people liked Persil. Now there is a micro difference
between the two and you need added value.’
But Allman laughs at the idea of P&G meticulously adding ’emotion’ to
its ads: ’It’s a scream. You add a bit of salt, a bit of pepper and a
bit of emotion!’ But he understands the motive: ’The reality is that
it’s more difficult these days to talk only about functional benefits.
It’s really important to get a piece of people’s hearts, as well as