In my generation, it was usually pretty easy to spot a P&G marketer. They are the type of marketer who had “the” answer. The “P&G way” used to be: find something (almost anything) that you’re better at than your competitor and then make the most of it, by showing a side-by-side demonstration, naming the “next leading brand” and quite possibly add some blue liquid to the TV ad. P&G exploited this execution through most of the 1970s and 1980s. Don’t get me wrong: I have always respected P&G for what it is. They did a good job for decades using that same trusted formula. They just stuck to the same formula a bit too long, and it caught up to them by the late 1990s.
The fundamentals of marketing matter
I spent my career in the CPG space, many times competing with P&G. I worked at J&J, General Mills, and Coke. The marketing fundamentals that we show in this article are part of what we use in our marketing training programs. Marketers will learn strategic thinking, brand positioning, brand plans, writing creative briefs, advertising decision-making, marketing analytics, and marketing finance.
Proctor and Gamble
P&G in the 1990s
Here’s a great example of the classic 1990 P&G advertising looked like, including the famous blue liquid.
By 2000, the P&G formula seemed worn out and they suddenly appeared to hit a brick wall. Growth dried up, several key brands lost their leadership of the market to rivals, and new product launches proved disappointing or even to be downright failures.
Competitor products had caught up, and in some cases surpassed them. Colgate was beating Crest, Listerine was beating Scope, Finish was beating Cascade, Dove was beating Ivory and others were catching up or passing the trusted P&G brands, the stock price fell dramatically from $120 to $85 almost overnight.
Strategically, brands really have four choices:
- Not around for very long
In the crowded consumer packaged goods (CPG) world, “better” had become increasingly difficult. Every category is so cluttered. Everyone has copied every non-patented product feature. Claims are getting even harder to gain separation from competitors. We are into the world of incremental-ization of fast-acting tabs, quick-dissolving strips or ultra powders. Yawn. More and more, what is winning is “different.”
Dove's "real beauty" campaign taught CPG marketers a vital lesson
Unilever was able to demonstrate the emotional side of their brand, giving them a much tighter connection with consumers. As Dove overtook P&G’s Ivory brand, it triggered new thinking for CPG marketers and seems to have awakened P&G marketers to emotional advertising.
Watch the transformation P&G has made with their advertising
P&G Moms campaign
I thought P&G did a very nice job at the 2012 Olympics, the one sponsor that seemed to jump out. “Thank You Moms” showed everything that moms did for their athletes, and just as Mom is an enabler, so is P&G to the Moms. I’m sure quite a few moms were shedding a few tears over this one. Whether it did anything for the business or not, it sure seems to have opened up the way P&G is willing to communicate.
The more emotional P&G ads of the last decade
Since the “P&G Moms” campaign, P&G has produced some of the best ads of the decade. At the base of P&G’s communication is the strategic shift from always being “better” to now being “different.” Instead of looking at unique product feature differences, they are looking at unique consumer insights that will help them connect with consumers. The ads have shifted from pure product demos to connecting with moments within the consumer’s life.
Always "Like a girl"
The Always “Like a girl” campaign is an inspirational video that connects with true insight about the perception of how girls run changes as they hit puberty. The ad starts by asking older teens and 20-somethings to run like a girl, and they depict a negative stereotypical overly feminine running style. Then, it asks 10-year-old girls to run like a girl, and they run in a highly athletic manner. It asks what changes to make the older girls see running as a negative. The ad challenges viewers to rethink their stereotypes. It inspires girls with an uplifting message to be themselves and encourages them to believe that, “running like a girl” is a good thing. The Always brand closely lines itself to the insights about the changes happening at puberty, just as moms and daughter will be choosing the feminine hygiene brand they will use.
The Old Spice “Smell like a man” campaign’s quirky, over-the-top humor is so different, it captured immense attention and helped P&G reinvigorate the Old Spice brand. The ad uses a series of quick cuts, putting the actor in crazy circumstances. His dry, over-the-top delivery adds to the humor.
It's a Tide Ad
I never thought during a Super Bowl game, I would ever say, “I’m looking forward to the next Tide ad” but that’s what I said when Tide created the perfect harmony of creative idea and media. Tide has always been one of the more trusted brands, but almost stoic and cold in their behavior. Fifty years of side-by-side demonstrations against every possible type of stain. With “It’s a Tide ad”, using the boring Tide brand added to the humor. With all eyes judging every Super Bowl ad, Tide decided to mock the typical ads, and surprise you that it was Tide doing so. Full marks for attention, brand link and stickiness. As Tide has 99% awareness for being the stain-fighter, they didn’t need to overly communicate much. Nice job P&G!
Ariel from India
A great ad for the Ariel brand from India, that speaks to the insight of the changing times for modern women, articulated by a father observing his daughter in action as she juggles her worklife and homelife. He speaks to his own guilt, and uses that to alter his own behavior. Very emotionally engaging way to layer in the consumer insight. Have a look.
Lessons to learn.
- Focus on different where you can’t win on better.
- Instead of product features, move to consumer insights
- Storytelling and moments connect more with your consumers than claims and demos.
Great job P&G connecting with consumers.
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