Adhocracy

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The Globe and Mail

For years, Procter & Gamble Co. has advertised to women with a friendly image, and products to make their homes, their husbands, and themselves smell and look better. Flaming destruction wreaked by an oiled-up football player in lemon-yellow short shorts was not generally part of the marketing message.

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Until now.

The packaged goods company’s latest ad starts off with the regular tropes: the blond woman praising Bounce fabric softener. The guitar strumming in the background. The wicker laundry basket.

But the commercial takes a sharp left turn when former NFL player Terry Crews crashes through the wall on a jet ski (which he has apparently driven through a suburban neighbourhood) and begins screaming about Old Spice body spray.

“It’s so powerful it sells itself in other people’s commercials,” he hollers as the debris settles around him.

But the commercials are more than a funny, absurdist twist on the often bland category of packaged goods advertising. They also represent a new strategy. Cross-promotion is a well-established tool, with fast-food restaurants promoting Hollywood movies, or, in a recent example, General Electric Co. advertising its turbines by celebrating how their power is used to make Budweiser.

One brand interrupting another, however, is much less common.

“The idea of having a brand come in and take over another brand’s commercial is something we hadn’t seen,” said Mike Norton, external relations director for male grooming with Procter & Gamble.

The company can use this interruptive strategy because Procter & Gamble owns all the brands involved. In another TV spot, a whistled tune and a promotion for Charmin moist wipes stops short when Mr. Crews’ head busts out of the toilet tank and through the Charmin packaging. Three fists then demolish yet more drywall to spray Old Spice in the direction of the camera.

“We wanted to look at other P&G brands we could partner with that could make sense. … To use the platform as an entertaining platform, but also to allow the other brands to be part of the spot in a very natural way,” Mr. Norton said.

While corporate brand strategy was not the main motivator for using more than one brand in the Old Spice ads, the campaign happens to point to a larger shift for Procter & Gamble’s marketing strategy.

For years, partly because the company’s product lines were so diverse, it has advertised its brands largely as separate entities, from Gillette razors to Crest toothpaste. Although there have been opportunities for cross-promotion, consumers are often not aware these brands fall under the same corporate umbrella. With its total budget reported at more than $9-billion (U.S.) last year, P&G is the world’s biggest ad spender.

“Increasingly, a lot of our communications – and you’ll be seeing in the coming months more and more – will have more consistency than they’ve ever had before,” said David Grisim, associate marketing director and head of brand operations for P&G Canada.

The insight that kicked off this change came from P&G’s experience in emerging markets. Overseas, it frequently uses its corporate brand to build trust among consumers.

In the Philippines, for example, ads for products are much more clearly marked under the P&G banner, Mr. Grisim said. Building that brand equity can help to convince consumers who buy one product to stay loyal to the company in other categories.

“In a number of developing markets, we’ve used P&G in our advertising for our different brands very overtly,” he said. “It helps to build trust in those markets where there isn’t the long-standing history.”

Increasingly, P&G is expanding its effort to market the parent company on a global scale. This week, it launched its worldwide campaign for the Summer Olympics that emphasizes the corporate brand’s ties to moms – P&G’s core demographic. (It is also sponsoring its largest ever group of athletes from around the world.)

“Between now and the Olympic Games in London, many of our spots will finish with a common tag at the end … but also a common look, and will tie it back to our global partnership with the Olympic movement,” Mr. Grisim said.

P&G is catching up to a trend that has already begun in the consumer packaged goods industry. S. C. Johnson & Son Inc. has long been aggressive about its “family company” tag at the end of all its advertisements.

And another competitor, Unilever PLC , has also realized the need to market products under its corporate umbrella. Starting roughly two years ago, Unilever began tagging corporate banners at the end of its ads for products such as Dove and Hellmann’s mayonnaise. It began doing this because market research showed that while consumers were familiar with the products, their brand awareness of Unilever itself was very low.

“It’s really responding to a change in consumers …” said Unilever Canada’s vice-president of marketing, Sharon Macleod. “What you find a lot more is that people are interested in the company behind the brand.”

Packaged goods companies face challenges with building brand loyalty and with guarding against competitors who market discount brands – an appealing strategy in tight economic times.

“You’re competing for shelf space. And people are flocking to store brands more and more,” said Corbin Rusch, senior brand strategist at consultancy firm Stealing Share Inc. “They’re failing to capitalize on the equity that is in some of their brands, to the rest of their portfolio. That is the play these companies need to take.”

As different as the products under one corporate banner are, they are often speaking to the same shoppers. When Old Spice found success two years ago with its “ The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign, it was a shift for the brand, which had not targeted women before – something it is doing again with the Terry Crews ad.

“When you go back to the ‘Your man’ campaign, we were definitely talking to women for the first time,” Old Spice’s Mr. Norton said. “A lot of that came from the research that women were buying that body wash for their men.”

Bounce and Charmin could get a lift as well. One of the most charming parts of the new ad is when Terry Crews tells the woman (while the hole in her wall is still in flames), “You smell like outdoor freshness.”

Mr. Norton says he has had positive feedback from his counterparts, who say that extra bit of promotion has increased exposure around the other brands. The Terry Crews spots will continue in coming months, and while Mr. Norton could not reveal plans for its development, the team has considered wreaking destruction on other products in the P&G family. Not quite the corporate branding the parent company had in mind, perhaps, but with its own impact nonetheless.

“That’s definitely been talked about,” he said.

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