P&G’s innovation with a smile

To say it's been a great year for Procter & Gamble would be an understatement. The consumer packaged goods giant bathed in the spotlight at Cannes in June, where it was named Advertiser of the Year largely for its move to more emotionally charged, entertaining advertising. From the Crest campaign by Saatchi & Saatchi New York, in which children are dazzled by the smile of the CAT operator about to level their playground, to the Tide to Go 'Talking Stain,' P&G has integrated its trademark product innovation with new, more human marketing communications.

To say it’s been a great year for Procter & Gamble would be an understatement. The consumer packaged goods giant bathed in the spotlight at Cannes in June, where it was named Advertiser of the Year largely for its move to more emotionally charged, entertaining advertising. From the Crest campaign by Saatchi & Saatchi New York, in which children are dazzled by the smile of the CAT operator about to level their playground, to the Tide to Go ‘Talking Stain,’ P&G has integrated its trademark product innovation with new, more human marketing communications.

‘We need to make all of our communication more interesting if we want to break through,’ says Toronto-based P&G Canada president and de facto head of marketing Tim Penner. ‘Every day it seems more difficult to reach our consumers and connect with them in a meaningful way. That’s partly because they spread their viewing across more media, and they’ve got more messages bombarding them, so we’ve really got to try harder. So we’ve tried to make our communication more interesting, and have a bit of fun with it.’

In Canada, this shift has been embraced by the entire organization, from senior management to assistant brand managers. Managing 54 brands in Canada from Always to Zest, the 100-strong marketing team has been recognized for efforts from the best-in-class beauty execution Rouge, a twice-yearly small-format mag going into more households than any other beauty mag in the country, to the Pantene Canadian Idol partnership with CTV, which just wrapped its third consecutive season and gets more robust each year, encompassing online, TV and product integration.

And while the Crest ‘Bulldozer’ spot may never air north of the border, made-for-Canada creative is also upping the emotional ante: earlier this year Crest partnered with Oral-B and Dentistry Canada Fund to establish a research and humanitarian fund as part of Oral Care Health Month. The initiative is now being adopted in other regions.

Arms-length industry observers have been impressed with P&G’s ability to introduce emotionally resonant messaging while maintaining their historical position of technical prowess. ‘Gone are the days of the side-by-side technical comparison with the blue water on the diaper,’ says Jill Nykoliation, president of Toronto agency Juniper Park, who spent 10 years at Kraft before moving to the agency side. ‘They perfected that, and it worked at an intellectual level. But now they’ve challenged themselves to be emotionally engaging as well.’

Award show accolades aside, this change has been answered by a strong sales performance. The global company reported a 33% increase in net income in Q4 to $3.02 billion worldwide; net sales rose 10% in the same period and 9% for the fiscal year; and in the same period, Canada recorded the highest percentage growth of all markets.

‘We are growing market share in almost every category in which we do business,’ says Rob Linden, category brand manager, corporate marketing, scale and innovation, P&G Beauty Care. ‘We have 24 brands with sales of over $1 billion globally – and in Canada, many of those same brands are leaders in their respective categories.’

Penner attributes this growth to innovation. ‘Be it product innovation or marketing innovation, P&G is designed to keep striving to find new, better ways of doing business,’ he says, adding that this culture is not limited to the marketing function. ‘We want innovative sales programs from our sales people, innovative logistics programs from our logistics people, work process innovation from everybody. We can’t be formulaic.’

Success stories in Canada include the recent launch of Tide Coldwater and the compacting of liquid laundry detergents to appeal to energy- and waste-conscious consumers. Gain Detergent has found a niche in a market that was underdeveloped compared to the U.S. a few years ago. And new products such as Gillette shampoo and conditioner and Tide with Dawn StainScrubbers are busting down brand and category silos to make the most of brand equity.

‘It’s game-changing stuff,’ says Nykoliation. ‘You saw it with the Swiffer: we could make a better cleaner or we could change the mop and own the mop – and you think, ‘Oh, good point.’ If a company as established as they are can be game-changing, it’s a good example to be following.’

With its unique market dynamics, Canada often serves as a testing ground for these innovations. ‘We use Canada to test not only new products, but also new ways to reach consumers,’ says Linden, pointing to a recent test of Pantene Midnight Expressions within the Asian demographic.

P&G works with ad agencies on executions from in-store to grassroots, and from DTC promotion to content integration – including the local offices of global agency partners like Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi. While marcoms in Canada integrate work from brand teams around the world, work done by many local partners has also been picked up internationally. ‘We are constantly cross-pollinating ideas across geographies,’ explains Linden. ‘This enables us to take ideas that are successful in one region and quickly roll them out to another.’

In terms of media innovation, P&G Canada has announced a shift of up to 20% of its media budget to digital. An early example of this was Scope’s Testyourbreath.ca, which reached out to a young male demographic this summer. Other brands playing in the digital space include Herbal Essences – even femcare is getting in on the fun.

‘They’re willing to take risks in doing work that’s pretty out there,’ says Dentsu CD interactive Michael Gramlow, who created the Scope site. ‘It was a departure in terms of how they showcase the product and the whole problem-solution. It was looked at as a test, so it was important that we gather as much data as we could so they could share that internally and make future decisions based on that – which is how they tend to do traditional work as well.’

At Kraft four years ago, Nykoliation watched as P&G planted seeds in the digital space, stretching the category’s old protective paradigm by sharing proprietary information with consumers at an early stage. The aim was to engage them with the brand by taking their feedback to heart. ‘They’ve turned digital into a development tool, which is impressive,’ she says. ‘It took courage and foresight to do that.’

Another important element of the strategy comes later in the process: using online communities for word of mouth and influencer outreach. ‘As the Internet gains importance as a one-stop shop for information, bloggers play a key part in helping consumers navigate the sea of content,’ says Linden. ‘They have been excellent partners in our brand outreaches, providing honest opinions to their readership.’

P&G’s secret to success seems to be in walking this fine line between experimentation and measurement – the emotional balanced with the rational. ‘No one at P&G let the effectiveness slide just because they wanted it to be a strong performer at Cannes,’ says Nykoliation. ‘They’ve dug deep to find the universal human truth. They used to leave you with ‘Yep, you’re technically superior,’ and now they leave you with, ‘You know what? Whiter teeth are about confidence, and how you can do anything with a smile.’ They give you things to think about, and when you go into that emotional space, that’s what happens.’

To lead into the new paradigm, Penner not only sets goals to inspire staff, but backs them up with test-and-learn budgets to make experimentation possible. ‘This whole area of marketing communications is shifting so quickly, you need people who are pushing the envelope,’ he says. ‘What’s scary today will be commonplace in six months, so you’d better be at the leading edge.’

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