P&G’s work proves how market leadership is bound to a willingness to embrace and encourage societal change, writes WARC’s Chiara Manco. 

When Cannes Lions awarded P&G the Brand Marketer of the Decade, its Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard stated: “It’s important now, as ever, to continue to use our voice and creativity to be a force for good, a force for growth and a force for change.” It’s that last word, ‘change’, that can offer an insight into the FMCG giant’s leadership. 

Over the last decade, the company has shown a readiness to respond to industry and society changes. When COVID-induced lockdowns demanded investment be reallocated to digital, P&G forged partnerships with leading e-commerce and streaming platforms. And when the Me Too movement questioned outdated notions of masculinity, it joined the conversation by reframing one of its most iconic brand slogans. Such work shows the power – and the sales results – that can be achieved when you lean in to change. 

My Black is Beautiful: The Talk

In 2017, three years before brands worldwide were spurred to action by Black Lives Matter protests, P&G was drawing attention to racial prejudice. The company attempted to countenance the harsh reality of what ‘The Talk’ means for black parents: the first step in preparing their children for the racial discrimination they will encounter in their lives. 

The campaign achieved huge reach and brought the conversation online, where hashtag #talkaboutbias millions of impressions. For P&G, it resulted in a 1% sales growth of My Black is Beautiful products among African-American consumers.

P&G: Thank You Mom

While each of its brands has its own unique values that resonate with consumer groups across categories and markets, for its sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics P&G sought to connect with its audience as a company. Through an ad that celebrated the mothers of Olympic champions, their unwavering support and sacrifices, P&G invested its own mother brand with emotional meaning. The campaign was optimised in real time to maximise effectiveness, and led P&G to achieve a brand equity performance 40% stronger than for the 2010 Winter Olympics. 

Ariel: Share the Load

In India, P&G had to keep up with a laundry category that was increasingly less concerned with functional benefits and instead aimed to reflect values important to its consumers. Identifying gender inequality as an issue that would resonate with its audience, P&G’s Ariel asked ‘Is laundry only a woman’s job?’, prompting a debate that extended far beyond India. 

The channel selection, from enlisting celebrities to apparel brands placing labels in clothes stating that an item could be washed by either a man or a woman, ensured nationwide reach. Men in their millions pledged to help address this inequality and the high levels of engagement led to a 60% sales increase for Ariel. In the years following the 2015 campaign, P&G built on the platform, directly calling out fathers and, most recently, sons, to share the load. 

Gillette: We Believe

Risking a loss of relevance among a millennial audience increasingly at war with traditional notions of masculinity, P&G decided to join the conversation. The Gillette brand’s iconic ‘The best a man can get’ tagline was turned into a question, encouraging men to consider what being ‘the best’ really meant. Backlash ensued, with some accusing Gillette of attacking men at large, but P&G did not back off, instead fuelling the conversation through local gender-disrupting initiatives. Since the launch of the campaign in 2019, Gillette has seen double-digit growth in online sales. 

SK-II: The Marriage Market Takeover

In a Chinese market that favours European brands when it comes to skincare, P&G’s Japanese-born SK-II faced the challenge of striking an emotional connection with consumers. By identifying the stigma surrounding single women in their 30s, and the pressure that society and family put on them to get married, it struck a chord with its target audience. Following the Marriage Market Takeover, sales of SK-II products dramatically increased, making 2016 the most profitable year for the brand in China.

Leading and inspiring

Big investments, smart media planning, product innovations – these are all expected of category-leading brands. But P&G shows there is so much more to being a leading FMCG company. As March Pritchard recently said at the CMO Growth Council Debate: “When we are both a force for good and a force for growth, what we create is a virtuous cycle – good leads to more economic power, economic power leads to more growth which allows us to invest back into more good.” And this virtuous cycle, this way P&G has of tackling business challenges while simultaneously addressing societal needs, will continue to inspire industry practitioners for generations to come.