Internet rewriting marketing rules: P&G

The Internet is breeding newly empowered consumers who are turning the old notions of branding and marketing on their heads, the co-founder of, Procter & Gamble's Internet marketing experiment, told delegates to Strategy's Online to Profit conference last week in...

The Internet is breeding newly empowered consumers who are turning the old notions of branding and marketing on their heads, the co-founder of, Procter & Gamble’s Internet marketing experiment, told delegates to Strategy’s Online to Profit conference last week in Toronto.

Not even a global marketing powerhouse like Procter & Gamble can ignore the fundamental influence of the Internet, said Nathan Estruth, marketing director of Procter & Gamble’s I-Ventures – the Internet arm of the Cincinnati, Ohio-based packaged goods giant.

‘We have gone from the old-world of brand as a finite definition – we know what it is, we have created it in our hallowed halls of marketing and we push it out to the world – to a brand that becomes what an individual consumer desires it to be. And if it doesn’t have the flexibility to become that, it is in danger of becoming obsolete,’ he warned.

P&G has long specialized in producing products designed to appeal to the largest number of consumers. But those products have little place in the Internet marketplace where Web-savvy shoppers are demanding unique and personalized products and services, he said.

‘The products that have the most mass appeal are the products that move the fastest through that retail space and thus give us the most return for our investment,’ he said, explaining the long-held view within P&G and many other packaged goods companies. ‘But the Internet has flipped that on its head. We have gone from limited SKU selection to an infinite SKU selection (on the Internet).’, P&G’s first major Internet venture, is an online cosmetics marketing site created in partnership with Calgary-based interactive marketing agency Critical Mass that allows individual consumers to buy products that have been customized and packaged for them.

‘We don’t care about the brand name being on the package,’ Estruth said. ‘All we care about is shelf impression, but a different kind of shelf impression. It’s not the shelf impression of what it will be in the store because it is never there. It is the shelf impression of when a woman puts it on her vanity.’

The Internet is forcing P&G to re-examine the way it advertises all its products, including cosmetics, of which it sells about US$7.5 billion worldwide annually. P&G is one of the world’s largest advertisers, spending more than US$3 billion a year – with as much as 95% of that on television.

However, the company is being forced to examine new ways of communicating with consumers.

‘The mass media era is over,’ Estruth said. ‘I am a bit of a radical. I go around and yell at all the brand managers and marketing directors telling them they that have their head in the sand because in three years that talent…is basically going to be meaningless. The high-value consumers are going to be demanding we talk to them one-on- one and we don’t know how to do that.’

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group