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P&G “Everyday Acts” Campaign: Just Another Recycled Branding Blitz?
January 31st, 2013
The new Proctor & Gamble (P&G) “Everyday Acts” campaign appears to resonate with the $84 billion company’s customers. The inspirational call to celebrate the role that everyday acts can have in creating big changes has over 663,000 “Likes” on its Facebook page. And the one-minute video articulating the campaign is beautifully shot. True, brands have long engendered strong affinity from their most loyal customers, and print, television and now social media are important tools for companies and brands to deepen their connection with customers while attracting new ones.
But at a time when many of the world’s largest companies are working with their customers to use their products more consciously and to use the power of brands as a force for good, this P&G campaign raises more than a few eyebrows; and not just because of the girl with the shiny hair who scored a boost of confidence from Pantene shampoo — obviously other factors such as a supportive family, motivated teachers and a safe home probably had something to do with her cheerful disposition.
Where P&G crosses into a decidedly questionable area is when the company suggests that somehow the “ordinary act” of using their products, each of which has its fair share of chemicals, “can help extend the life of the planet.” Given the scope of the social and environmental challenges we face as a society today, this sort of claim not only misses the opportunity to add more meaningfully to the effort to shift consumers toward a greater awareness of the impact of their purchases — it has the potential to create more risk than reward for P&G (witness the lawsuit faced by Coca-Cola related to the misleading communications related to their Vitamin Water brand).
At a time when multinationals such as Unilever, Microsoft and Nike are striving to do business far from the usual, this example of P&G’s celebration of everyday acts comes across as dated and self-serving. While it is true that the little things in life can add up to make a big difference, buying more products that lack a clear commitment to driving shared value does not. The argument that brands have the power to motivate customers to do big things has merit; but those brands hoping to retain customer trust and loyalty now need to go beyond simply influencing more product sales to offer consumers a pathway to legitimately healthy and more meaningful lives for themselves, their communities and the world. To that end, some companies already are taking big and bold steps.
Take a look at Microsoft, which has evolved far from its well-deserved, and often criticized, status as the world’s most powerful software and information technology company. It may now be in the shadow of Apple, but its actions enacting social change far outshine the maker of iPhones and iPads. The company currently leverages its brand status and technological heft to instigate a massive change for good. For example, the Microsoft Volunteer Manager matches the company’s employees to non-profits already laden with volunteers, but could benefit from even more capacity. Especially compelling is YouthSpark, a $500 million initiative the company launched last fall to create opportunities for as many as 300 million youth over the next several years. Using Microsoft’s deep well of IT services, seasoned professionals and thirty-year history of working with social entrepreneurs, YouthSpark is a fine example of going beyond selling a product or service and instead will tackle youth unemployment, one of the most pressing problems in both established and developing countries. Microsoft benefits, too, for building trust and brand affinity while doing better for society.
Nike is another company that is changing the way business is done: not by merely emphasizing the attractiveness of its products, but on how they can be made more safely, ecologically responsible and with fairness to workers in mind. The company started by working with its 900 suppliers who contribute as much as 16,000 different materials to the company’s product line in order to find safer and more ecologically sound fabrics. But Nike does not just keep these ideas under lock and key: The company shares findings with other companies in the hopes they will also use more sustainably sourced and socially responsible materials. Furthermore, the company engages its customers by allowing them to take a virtual tour of the company’s manufacturing process and learn about the more sustainable and recycled materials that go into the company’s shoes and athletic apparel. By turning the idea of competition on its head and encouraging more cross-industry collaboration, Nike has been a game changer on the sustainable business front.
Finally, one of P&G’s fiercest competitors, Unilever, is transforming how its brands interact with customers via its Sustainable Living Plan. Initiatives are all over the map, from directing leading brands to reduce the amount of salt in their products to using its iconic Lifebuoy soap brand to teach hand-washing in order eradicate infectious diseases in the developing world. By working with customers and suppliers to make small changes for effective social change, Unilever is on target to meet many of its long term sustainability — and revenue — goals.
What sets Microsoft, Nike and Unilever apart from other companies, including P&G, is that they are not just talking in generalities and clichés, but are either making their products safer and more sustainable, or working to become forces of social good. From a traditional branding perspective, the “Everyday Acts” campaign has its strong points, and may cement the affinity between its brands and customers. But it also takes far too much credit for the little steps that are taken to change the world. And in an era where more consumers are looking towards business to heal the earth and better society, P&G comes across as more self-serving than offering any real solutions.