Procter & Gamble’s Mission to Solve the Internet Marketing Puzzle

I believe today’s marketing model is broken. We are applying antiquated thinking and work systems to a new world of possibilities.The traditional marketing model is obsolete.“ Jim Stengel, Global Marketing Officer, P & G, Association of National Advertisers, Oct 2004.

There is a growing realisation that marketing attitudes have to change. The mass marketing tactics of the last fifty years no longer penetrate audiences like they used to. A shift in the whole approach is needed if marketing messages are to resonate with an increasingly cynical consumer.

When discussing marketing it doesn’t get any bigger than Procter & Gamble. With brands like Ariel, Head and Shoulders, Pampers and Crest, P & G should be leading the way in pushing their products into people’s homes.

With the mega brand no longer revered as some sort of deity, P & G are now learning how to engage with their consumers, and to persuade them to respond positively to their products.

P & G has a long tradition of innovation in the way that they market their products. They were the first advertise nationally and took product placement to another level with their TV ‘Soap’ Operas, designed to hook female viewers onto their soaps and shampoos.

P & G recently enlisted an army of 600,000 ‘connectors’ in their ‘Vocalpoint’ campaign (an extension of their earlier ‘Tremor’ scheme amongst teenagers). These ‘connectors’ were provided with coupons and free samples to spread the word about P & G products.

As Steve Knox, Vocalpoint CEO, recognised, “we know that the most important form of marketing is an advocacy message from a trusted friend.”

With Vocalpoint, P & G used the power and trust of social networks to promote their brands. People might no longer listen to advertising, but they will always listen to the advice of friends.

The fact that change was on the horizon had already been identified by their former CMO, Bob Weiliing. In a 2002 interview, Bob explained that the Internet might not replace the mass ‘push’ medium of TV. But instead could be tailored to the individual.

The web is perfect for those who want to learn more about a product or service. Gaining advice and the latest product news on demand are not services available on a ‘push’ medium. TV is about the mass market message. The internet is for individual relationship building.

Bob’s conclusion was that P & G’s future success lay in working out how to combine the two. Maintaining the relevancy of the 30 second TV ad, whilst also using the extended attention and interaction of the web. The two warring marketing factions would also have to start work ing together. The technophobes would have to start talking to the internet evangelists to find a solution.

In 2005, P & G cut their TV ad spend by 8% to a mere $677.3 million. A bold move and a definitive shift into new areas.

Earlier this year, they contacted digital and interactive agencies in the UK to put together its first digital agency roster for Western Europe. Their remit: to find innovative new ways of populating P&G’s brands online.

We are now seeing the rise of interactive websites designed to capture eye balls and encourage return visits.

Last year a music themed site for Old Spice was launched. Offering free song downloads, it was  firmly designed to appeal to the 16-24 iTunes generation.

During the FIFA World Cup, a YouTube style website was launched for Pringles crisps. People could upload videos of themselves imitating the TV ad and get their five minutes of online fame.

Websites for a youth audience clearly aim to develop the brand through interaction, relevancy and entertainment.

P & G are clearly looking to apply the philosophy of engagement to their sites. By providing content of value you develop trust and confidence. Your visitors are then more likely to want a relationship with your brand and become customers.

The Pampers website builds an affinity with its audience through the provision of advice and help. As a valuable resource for young mums, it enriches their association with the brand, and will provoke a desirable response next time they go shopping for nappies.

P & G’s Home Made Simple website is a flagship in online marketing. Instead of being blasted with product placement, the website simply provides useful tips and self help videos. Once your trust is gained you will inevitably sign up for the newsletter. The further barrage of free samples, coupons, special offers and sweepstakes will further pull you into their trap of becoming a convert to their products.

‘Home Made Simple’ provides the perfect buying environment by developing trust, and the desire to have a relationship with their brand. What the new style of online marketing is all about.

At the Association of National Advertisers Conference, earlier this month, Jim Stengal and P & G’s CEO, A.G. Lafley, outlined their mission to carry their brands into the ‘pull’ age of relationship marketing.

Lafley reinforced the views of Bob Weiling: they had to learn how to make connections with their audience through the various ‘touch points’. Their future lay in learning how to integrate their message across all the mediums. Rather than relying on the old one way ‘push’ bombardment.

Lafley’s key point was that they had to learn how to “let go” as “the more in control we are the more out of touch we become.” P & G needed to move beyond thinking in terms of merely transactions. And instead focus on building relationships by being more responsive and receptive to what their audience wanted.

Jim Stengal opened his speech with a plea to his fellow marketers to “stop thinking about consumers and start thinking about people.” He was suggesting a paradigm shift in how they approached marketing and advertising.

Their customers were no longer just demographics. But individuals to be empathised and engaged with. They had to be able to listen to what people wanted instead of just telling them what the brand should mean to them. A new level of understanding needed to be created on why people should place trust in a relationship with P & G’s brands, rather than simply superficially appealing to their desires.

Many Internet marketers are eager to hammer the nails into TV’s coffin. Whilst traditional advertising execs sit on their hands waiting for the ‘web 2.0’ bubble to burst.

P & G have been steadily moving from a monolithic, lumbering marketing dinosaur into an Internet savvy, feedback focused advertiser. By being an early adopter of the new ‘trust’ marketing philosophy, P & G should be on the right track to solving the puzzle of marketing online, and maturing their brand’s message for the sceptical consumer.

8 thoughts on “Procter & Gamble’s Mission to Solve the Internet Marketing Puzzle

  1. I didn’t know about P&G’s Web marketing progress before – thanks for sharing, Matt! It will be interesting to see what Nettie Hartsock finds as far as P&G corporate blogs for the Fortune 500 Blog Project. I suspect that there will be some subsidiaries with blogs, but no official P&G blogs.

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