There are few elements of life that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has not upended, and marketing hasn’t been immune to those changes, said Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble, one of the world’s largest advertisers.
On Wednesday morning, Pritchard gave his first keynote since the pandemic began. The talk took place during Lions Live, the virtual counterpart to this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, which was canceled earlier this year. He focused on the events of the past few months and how they’ve impacted the role brands play in society.
Pritchard said during his talk, and afterward in an interview with Adweek, that brands don’t have much of a choice in speaking out and taking action. Brand purpose—that buzzy phrase that has dominated conversations in the marketing space over the past few years—has never been more important. Without it, brands risk not just losing customers but alienating them.
“There’s been a higher degree of consumer expectation in terms of brands stepping up,” Pritchard told Adweek, adding that the conglomerate’s outspoken past has allowed it “to be able to use our voice and shine the light on particular areas and then spark important conversations.”
That’s particularly the case when it comes to matters of racial injustice. P&G is well known for campaigns rooted in activism and social justice, such as “The Talk,” which focuses on the conversations Black parents have with their children about racism. Pritchard said going forward P&G will continue to create spots and campaigns that push the conversation.
However, even in a pandemic, P&G’s marketing focus didn’t shift away from its products. CPG companies have seen a boost during the pandemic, thanks to heightened demand for household products, and Pritchard said that for P&G’s brands (Olay, Mr. Clean, Old Spice, Pampers and more), a central marketing point was focusing on the “core benefits” of a product.
“We sent out guidance to every brand around the world and had them focused first and foremost on making sure that they were actually reinforcing the benefits of those products, helping people use them in a way that would actually enhance the health and hygiene benefit,” he said.
Like many brands, P&G has made a commitment to increasing diversity and representation not only in its advertising but also internally. The company is aiming to “achieve 40% multicultural representation within P&G,” and Pritchard said that the company still has a way to go before hitting that goal on its agency teams and production crews. He added that P&G is also “restructuring buying systems to significantly increase investment in Black-owned or operated media companies, agencies and marketing suppliers.”
Pritchard and P&G have long touted the motto that a brand is “a force for growth and a force for good,” which he repeated in his Lions Live talk. That’s proven true during the pandemic, which has brought P&G its highest sales growth in a decade, a 10% boost during the first quarter of this year and a renewed spotlight on its social justice-fueled campaigns.
“When you do good, it actually increases growth because all boats lift,” he said. “You reduce the inequalities that ultimately will help everyone.”
In non-pandemic times, Pritchard is a staple on the circuit of marketing’s biggest events, from Cannes Lions to ANA’s Masters of Marketing event. He said that a silver lining of the current situations is the opportunity to engage in virtual events, which often can reach more people than in-person conferences.
“People tend to like to get together, and when you get together it creates that human connection, which is important as well,” he said. “I have to believe that we will innovate in such a way that will enable that.”