P&G's irresistibly superior plan
A view from Claire Beale

P&G's irresistibly superior plan

Is P&G's "irresistible superiority" a dollop of strategic bollocks or a whole new approach to marketing?

I’d love to know who at Procter & Gamble (or its army of advisors) came up with "irresistible superiority", the new mantra that analysts were bludgeoned with when P&G announced its latest results last week. It had all the hallmarks of an expensive exercise in tailoring the emperor some new clothes. 

The company’s financial chief, Jon Moeller, appeared to have Irresistible Superiority Tourette’s when he unveiled a 1% fall in total sales to $15.6bn for its third quarter, splattering the phrase throughout his presentation and leaving analysts "baffled" by this new cipher for growth. "It’s just jargony bullshit, isn’t it?" one analyst said (off the record).

So is "irresistible superiority" a dollop of strategic bollocks or a whole new approach to marketing? Apparently, it’s a strategy for building market share in an environment of low growth. It’s about delivering a customer experience – from the performance of the brand to its advertising, price point, packaging, customer service and so on – that makes rival brands unpalatable, even when they’re cheaper. It’s about raising the standards of what consumers expect from a product category and securing long-term customer loyalty.

And, for P&G’s agencies, it means new benchmarks for advertising effectiveness. P&G will now be looking for irresistibly superior advertising that "makes you think, talk, laugh, cry and smile". The company wants "advertising that clears the bar for creative brilliance", advertising that excels at "sparking conversations, affecting attitudes, changing behaviour and sometimes even defining popular culture". And P&G wants advertising that makes you buy. And buy. Moeller said: "We are testing our advertising quality. A campaign must drive growth for a full year."

All of which begs the question of what the heck P&G was doing before it alighted on the irresistibly superior strategy. Was it not aiming to provide the very best customer experience? Was it not demanding that its agencies create ads that moved people and influenced purchasing decisions months after they’re first seen? 

P&G is one of the "universities" of marketing, so I’m pretty sure the tenets of "irresistible superiority" can’t come as a revelation to its brand managers, though consistently delivering at such a high level is another matter altogether. 

It’s certainly going to be fascinating to track the company’s progress as it pushes the irresistibly superior ambition at the same time that it implements severe cuts to its marketing levers, including a $1bn cull in media spend and slicing $500m off the fees it pays agencies. 

Claire Beale is global editor-in-chief of Campaign.