P&G and Google: The New Laurel and Hardy?

20 November 2008

GRAND ISLAND, Nebraska: The preceding location is almost exactly half-way between Google's Mountain View (Calif.) headquarters and that of Procter & Gamble in downtown Cincinnati. Its significance to this story is purely symbolic: the picture of Laurel and Hardy is not!

At first sight the laid-back Googlistas and the buttoned-up 'Proctoids' (as P&G staff reportedly refer to themselves) are not the ideal couple. Or are they? Which is where Stan and Ollie's come in - as will be  explained later.

Surface-wise, the only shared values of these advertising titans are the razor-like sharpness of their business instincts and their unblinking focus on the bottom line. But believe it or not, the duo have launched a program of employee exchanges. 

Around  two-dozen staffers from the companies have spent several weeks embedded into each other's staff training programs, attending meetings where business plans are openly discussed.

Until recently neither company permitted this kind of access to outsiders – and until this story appeared in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal the initiative had gone unnoticed by the outside world.

So why, on the face of it, this potentially dangerous liaison?

For much the same reason as Stan and Ollie first got together. One played off the other, making the whole immeasurably greater than the sum of the parts.

Google, now a hooked growth junkie, urged on by its Wall Street dealers, craves an ever bigger fix of P&G's $8.7 billion (€6.86bn; £5.78bn) annual adspend to ward off the inevitable slowing of its own revenue growth.

Likewise P&G, boasting the largest ad budget on planet Earth, has finally realised that the world no longer comprises loving Moms whose only source of maternal satisfaction is the whiteness of their laundry.

It now knows the next generation of laundry-detergent, toilet-tissue and skin-cream buyers spends more time online than watching TV.

Says P&G's digital innovation manager Stan Joosten – whose job function was created only last spring: "We're trying to open the eyes of our brand managers."

The swap is the brainchild of former P&G cmo Jim Stengel who recently left the company to set-up his own consultancy.

Before doing so he met with Tim Armstrong, Google's ad sales and operations manager for the Americas. The two men brainstormed the job swap idea, which launched in January.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff