Proctor & 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 We are applying antiquated thinking and work systems to a new world of possibilities…The traditional marketing model is obsolete.”- Jim Stengel, Global Marketing Officer, P & G, Association of National Advertisers, Oct 2004.

The notion that marketing and advertising attitudes have to change is no longer a theory just banded about by Internet marketers. Even the big boys and the major world players are now accepting that the mass marketing techniques, of the last 50 years, are no longer penetrating audiences like they used to. There is going to have to be a shift in the whole approach of advertising if it is going to maintain any relevancy with an increasingly cynical consumer.

When discussing marketing it doesn’t get any bigger than Proctor & Gamble, one of the largest suppliers of household products in the world, and certainly one of the biggest advertisers. With brands like Ariel, Head and Shoulders, Pampers and Crest, they should be leading the way in utilising new methods to get their products into people’s homes. With the mega brand no longer revered as some sort of deity, P & G are going to have to learn how to communicate with the influential consumer networks, and to persuade them to talk positively about their products.

P & G has a long tradition of innovation and groundbreaking in the way they have broadcast their messages. They were the first to start advertising nationally, way back in 1880, and have taken the idea of product placement to another level with their Soap Opera productions designed to hook female viewers onto their shows and shampoos.

Recently, P & G enlisted an army of 600,000 ‘connectors’ to spread the message in their ‘Vocalpoint’ campaign (an extension of their earlier ‘Tremor’ scheme amongst teenagers). Their ‘connectors’ were provided with coupons to distribute to their colleagues, and free samples to provoke conversations 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 are utilising the influence and relevancy of social networks to promote their products through interaction and trust. People might no longer listen to brands, but they will always listen to the advice of friends.

The perception that change was on the horizon had already been identified by their former global marketing officer, Bob Weiliing. In a 2002 interview, Bob’s view was that the Internet might not replace the mass ‘push’ medium of TV, but instead can be tailored to the individual. An online environment can be used for when there is a personal passion to learn more about a product or service. Gaining advice, direction and the latest product news are services not readily available on just a ‘push’ medium. TV is about the mass market message, whereas the internet is perfect for individual relationship building.

Bob’s conclusion, on the future of P & G’s marketing success, lay in working out how to combine the two. They had to maintain the relevancy of the 30 second TV ad, whilst also utilising the extended attention and interaction available online. This also meant persuading the two warring marketing factions to work together to find a solution – to get the technophobes talking to the internet evangelists. It was been obvious in recent years that Bob’s successor, Jim Stengel, subscribes firmly to the latter camp.

In 2005, P & G cut their TV ad spend by 8% to a mere $677.3 million, a bold move and a definitive shift onto non-traditional media. Earlier this year, they contacted digital and interactive agencies in the UK to put together its first digital agency roster for Western Europe, and to find innovative new ways of populating their brands online.

We are now seeing the rise of interactive websites designed to keep hold of eye balls and encourage return visits. Last year a music themed site for Old Spice was launched with free downloads and song samples to appeal to the 16-24 iTunes generation. Another notable example was the campaign for Pringles crisps during the FIFA World Cup. A website created where people could upload videos of themselves imitating the TV ad, mirroring the appeal of YouTube for a young internet savvy audience. Both content driven sites designed to develop the brand through interaction, relevancy and value.

P & G have also learnt the lessons preached by legions of business bloggers. By providing information of value you develop trust and confidence; consequently, people will want a relationship with your brand and become customers. Their 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, with its own TV show and guides on good housekeeping. Instead of being blasted with product placement, the website simply develops relationships with its audience through its news and articles. Once your trust is gained you will inevitably sign up for the newsletter, with further promises of free samples, coupons, special offers and sweepstakes all pulling 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 strategy across all the mediums available, rather than relying on the old one way ‘push’ bombardment of marketing messages. His 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, the ‘boss’, 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 from the brand instead of 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 P & G’s brands rather than simply superficially appealing to their desires (a tactic that has served copywriters for generations).

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, since the start of the decade, been steadily moving from a monolithic, lumbering marketing dinosaur into an Internet savvy, feedback focused livewire. By being an early adopter of the new ‘trust’ focused 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.