Turning brand purpose into activism: P&G’s Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard

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In this exclusive interview for WARC’s annual Marketer’s Toolkit release, Marc Pritchard – Chief Brand Officer at Procter & Gamble (P&G) – speaks to WARC’s Geoffrey Precourt about turning brand purpose into activism, how P&G is tackling personalisation, and new types of creativity.

Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer, Procter & Gamble (P&G)

WARC: I think everybody’s come around to accept the idea of brand purpose, but P&G has taken it to a stage of brand activism, really. But you can’t do that with every brand. Tell me about the ones that you can, and the difference between purpose and activism.

Pritchard: We frankly found that, sometimes, the purpose can be almost so broad it’s disconnected from business. You can’t let that happen. We’ve learned a lot about this, and in fact what we try to do is have our brands be a force for good and a force for growth.

That’s specifically in the areas of what we call citizenship. We want to be good citizens. There’s five elements of our citizenship. One, the foundation is ethics and responsibility. It’s foundational – part of our purpose, our values, and our principles. Then we focus on community impact, things like safe drinking water, disaster relief, gender equality, diversity and inclusion, and sustainability. Those are our pillars. That then what we do is we ask each brand to think about, “What is your ambition to be a force for good and a force for growth in any one of those areas, or more, that fits with your brand?” It has to fit with the brand’s core benefit and core reason for being.

So Always (the feminine hygiene brand) is about period protection. What we’re trying to do is make sure that period protection is for everyone, because that’s going to give them the ability to do whatever they want to do with their lives. That’s why ‘End Period Poverty’ fits so beautifully, because if you can’t go to school because you can’t afford adequate period protection. Then you don’t get educated, you fall behind, you don’t have economic empowerment, you don’t have economic equality. So, that one fits so perfectly.

The other interesting thing that we talked about is ‘force for good, force for growth’. You have to do both. You can’t do one or the other. If you’re just a force for good, then you’re philanthropy. If you’re just a force for growth, it might be kind of mercenary. But when you do both, it’s sustainable. I can remember conversations more than a decade ago with some of the NGOs we first worked with. We said, “Well, let’s figure out how we might be able turn this into a business proposition, where we can maybe work together to drive our brand.” They said, “Oh, no. No. We can’t do that.” We said, “Listen. We can donate money, but that’s not going to get you much. If we find a way to make this work with our brands, then it becomes a real sustainable proposition. Then you know you can do this.”

WARC: So it’s working with brands, instead of working with business.

Pritchard: Yes. Because the brand stands for something. The brand is the unit of value that consumers purchase. The brand has an equity to it and a trust associated with it. So if a brand that is the absolute best brand– like Always, for period protection – is saying, “If you buy this pack we will donate a pad to women and young girls who miss school because they don’t have adequate period protection,” then people trust that. Then they do what they’ve just done, with 50 million pads donated, and now they’re doubling to another 100 million pads. They will do a lot of good. And they’ll grow, which allows them to keep reinvesting in doing good.

WARC: Let’s step it back, and I’m going to go back to the activism part again: P&G’s criminal justice program. That’s a strong, provocative, powerful message that somehow, again, five years ago would’ve been lost in the idea of brand communications. Where does that come from?

Pritchard: I’ll explain how this works – it’s Global Citizen who’s working on ending extreme poverty. Nat Geo, RadicalMedia and P&G worked together to create the Activate series. This one was on the criminalisation of poverty, and that’s where it started. One of those components was the fact that cash bail continues to fuel the cycle of poverty. If you’re poor and you get arrested and you can’t post bail, then you stay in jail even though you haven’t been convicted. So they’re trying to end cash bail. Where P&G comes in [is that]the criminalisation of poverty is driven in part by racial bias. Racial bias is one of the things that drives more black and Hispanic people being arrested, that then go into jails. What we do is we use our voice in advertising to eliminate bias. We’re back and forth between the world’s largest or the world’s second-largest spender in advertising. We reach 5 billion people on the planet every day with our ads. So, we want to use our advertising as a force for good and a force for growth.

Our job is to try to make sure we have the accurate and realistic portrayal of all people in our advertising, whether they be men or women, or race or ethnicity, LGBTQ, whatever the case may be. Because when you have accurate portrayals, then the memories that embed in people’s minds are accurate as opposed to biased. That starts to make you understand that, “Wait a minute, there’s no reason why I should have any kind of bias against somebody because they’re black or brown or whatever the case may be.” That’s what we’re doing on that one.

WARC: Aside from the idea of connected TV and programs that allow you to narrow to really that one-to-one basis, what is the update on that mass personalization concept that you have? And are you using platforms like Amazon, like Alibaba, like Walmart to carry your message in new directions?

Pritchard: Absolutely. The major database that we have has now has given us the ability to do programmatic on a much larger scale than we ever were able to do. It’s really pretty interesting, because it’s not exactly that complicated. It’s just taking data, creating an algorithm to be able to get to an audience that you know is going to give you some more precision while still reaching a lot of people, and then automatically buy and do it in a way that – most importantly – caps the frequency, so you don’t waste money on excess frequency. We do that in the ad exchanges. We do that directly with publishers. We do that with also partners like Amazon and Alibaba and JD.com, and we’re working now with others. So that approach is done with whoever we can buy media from.

WARC: The mechanics of putting that together – how long and what are your further expectations beyond that?

Pritchard: We’ve been working on that slowly but surely. As we engage with publishers and buy media, we get device IDs that we can then turn into consumer IDs that are anonymous, and then at the same time we do our consumer relationship marketing, CRM platforms, websites, apps to collect first-party data through an opt-in basis. Then we mix that stuff together, get our data scientists on it, do algorithms, and go buy stuff.

WARC: This is less of a problem for a company of your size, but the balance between short term performance and long term brand equity. How do you balance that? You also have to worry about Wall Street every quarter, too.

Pritchard: We do. And it’s funny. I think it’s a great question. I think the reality is… frankly, when you’re a big public company hard to discern between the two. You’ve got to be thinking about, “How do I deliver today?” and, “How do I invent tomorrow?” That’s the way we think about it. Win today, invent tomorrow.

Everything you look at has to be through that lens, which is, “How is our brand going to best serve this consumer with our products packages and all of our elements?” That has to be adding to the long term equity bank and trust bank so you can continue to move on. It’s an ongoing, constant journey … You’ve got to win today, and you’ve got to look at how do you look around the corner about what’s happening, what’s coming.

WARC: There’s a hypothesis that a video ad – a piece of video – should be able to stand without the image, and that we’re getting to a point of almost media neutrality, where a good message can run on any number of different platforms.

Pritchard: Yes. That’s where we’ve kind of always been: what we create should be able to run on different platforms. What I think is important though, is that context does matter. Different platforms have different usage experiences for the user. [If] you watch TV, you’re still pretty much in a passive entertainment mode, and you’re willing to watch something for a while. If you’re on YouTube, you’re maybe a little bit more willing to engage. [On] social media, you’re whipping through stuff. On over the top [platforms], you’re looking for entertainment and you’re not looking for ads. What we’re working on is the ability to be able to engage people in every one of those. That’s creating a new type of creativity, where we’re merging the ad world with different, other creative worlds.

WARC: CCPA, GDPR… you have a much better handle on your own data. You’re relying less on third-party resources, but how do you see that changing the way you go about marketing?

Pritchard: We’re making sure that we’ve put the wheels in motion to ensure that we can comply with whatever comes out of legislation. I think the good news is we really take a very high standard when it comes to data. We focus on the consumer. What does the consumer want, what are they allowed? We really respect that. That helps us a lot. We’ve been that way for a long time. What we would prefer and what the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) is advocating for as well is a common privacy approach, because it’d be ideal to have one privacy approach and not 27, or worse, 50. So hopefully, we’ll be able to make some progress on that.

This article first appeared in www.warc.com

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