P&G's Olympics ad campaign could destroy its reputation

Over the years, Procter &Gamble has built a reputation within the advertising industry — for producing commercials that are strategically smart but creatively dumb.

This campaign undermines everything Procter & Gamble advertising has stood for. Thank goodness!

Historically, they treated each advertising campaign like a scientific laboratory experiment, where the only variables allowed were ones they could control and adjust to see what effect each would have on the final result in the marketplace.

Creative quality was not such a variable, so they treated it as a constant.

A reputation for constant dullness…

For each commercial they ended up running, they’d commission literally hundreds of storyboards on many different strategies. From this, they’d narrow down to a handful to submit to focus group testing, then cull further to produce two or three to run in test markets. They’d determine which parts of which commercials worked best, then play mix and match to end up building a final commercial the way Dr. Frankenstein built men.

The results were just what they wanted: constant. Constantly safe, constantly middle-of-the-road, constantly predictable, constantly boring. And if they were constantly too dull to catch consumers’ attention, well, as the world’s largest advertiser, P&G could afford to keep running and running and running and running them until viewers had no escape.

…shot down in flames


Now P&G has launched what Global Brand-Building Officer Marc Pritchard describes as “the most far-reaching and ambitious campaign” in the package-goods giant’s history.

It covers 34 brands, runs in 73 countries — and breaks just about every advertising rule the P&G has imposed on its agencies over the decades.

And Procter & Gamble should be proud of that.

Zigging when everyone else zags

At a time when television screens are inundated with spots showing athletes doing their thing and glorifying their brands’ roles in making that possible; when the air waves are filled with sanctimonious ads lecturing about such highfalutin’ subjects as Diversity, Physical Activity and Health; when every advertiser is a “proud sponsor of the 2012 Olympics”; P&G’s ad campaign is doing something completely different — connecting with its target audience.

Focusing on the audience, not the games

There’s this flawed theory about advertising that runs during televised sportscasts, and that’s that the only thing viewers are capable of paying attention to is more footage of the sport being televised, because they’re so dumb, they’ll think it’s part of the action, not a commercial. That’s why you see all those spots with auto-racing footage during the Indy 500 telecast, football footage during NFL games…and Olympic sports footage during commercials that run before and during the Olympics.

But P&G’s Olympics advertising isn’t really about the Olympics. It’s about their audience — the mothers of the world who raise and take care of their kids with love and hard work (and buy Procter & Gamble products, but the spots don’t talk about that). So while viewers see some Olympic-type footage, it’s with a twist, and only in a supporting role.

The stars of the commercials are mothers.

“Proud Sponsor of Moms”

Having chosen this strategy, Procter & Gamble goes all the way with it.

They even eschew the cliched “Proud sponsors of the Olympic games” signoff and instead use the campaign line, “Proud sponsors of Moms” to end all their television commercials and viral videos. That one line, by the way, is about half of the entire commercial or video’s total copy. The rest is pure, visual storytelling and emotion.

One 60-second execution, for example, shows all the usual Olympic events, from the opening parade to the finish line, but with a difference. All the “athletes” in their national uniforms are children. As we see a young boy on the high-diving board, the camera cuts to a closeup of his mother looking up anxiously from the audience. Then, against a pure white screen, we see a super: To their moms, they’ll always be kids. The super is then replaced by quick cuts of five P&G brand logos while a female voice-over says, “P&G. Proud sponsors of moms.”

The 30-second version, being shorter, has a little less build-up, but it still packs an emotional punch.

But the real winner of the campaign is a commercial-and-video pair where the visual focus is almost purely on mothers in one country after another, as they wake up their children before the crack of dawn, feed them breakfast, get them to school, take them to and support them during after-school sports training, tend to their sports injuries, and then, as their children have grown up, put their hearts and souls in to rooting for them at the Olympic games themselves. “The world’s toughest job,” says the end super of the two-minute video, “is the world’s best job. Thank you, Mom.” Then come the almost unobtrusive product logos and that line again: “P&G. Proud sponsor of Moms.”

The 30-second commercial conveys the same thought in fewer words: “Behind every athlete is a loving Mom. Thank you, Mom.”

Do try this at home

Unlike their usual mediocrities, Procter & Gamble doesn’t have to keep running these spots until people notice them. But millions of consumers will probably hope they do, because they’re the kind of messages you want to see (and enjoy) again and again — and that’s something I never dreamed I’d be writing about a P&G commercial.

Local Richmond advertisers obviously don’t have the deep pockets of the world’s largest advertiser. But even without the original music score, without the cast of dozens and hundreds of extras, without all the international location shooting, it’s possible to do what P&G did right:

  1. Make your advertisi
    This campaign undermines everything Procter & Gamble advertising has stood for. Thank goodness!

    ng about your audience, not your product. Ans talk to them, not at them. People care about themselves, not you; that’s human nature.

  2. Keep it clean and simple. Research shows that viewers can absorb 1.25 ideas from a 30-second commercial — and that’s only if they’re paying attention.
  3. Emotions trump laundry lists of product features. You’re spending all this money to make your prospective customers feel good, not yourself. And people make purchase decisions emotionally, then use sales points for after-the-fact justification.
  4. Romance your audience, and they’ll love you back. People like people who make them feel god about themselves, and they buy from people they like.
  5. Buy their attention with entertainment value. You’re asking people to give you something even more valuable than their money — their time. You won’t get either unless you make it worth their while.
  6. When you run commercials that consumers like to watch, you don’t have to spend extra media dollars airing them so often.