P&G’s Gillette strategy? Blame the messenger with a $150m account review

September 18, 2012

It seems Gillette advertising is the best a man can get not after all. Not at least when that man is Procter & Gamble Brand-Building Officer Marc Pritchard. Pritchard has just put the North American shaving, deodorant and body wash business up for review, which at a spend of $150m last year (according to Kantar) makes it the kernel of the Gillette worldwide business.

That, by the way, will also be up for review quite soon, and must be worth upwards of $300m in total.

In the world of advertising, this is a seismic event. BBDO has handled the Gillette account for ever. Or, to be a little more precise about the matter, since 1966 in America, when it bought the Clyne Maxon agency, which first won the business in 1931. In 1989 BBDO devised one of the most famous advertising tag lines of all time: The Best A Man Can Get. And in 2005, it successfully hurdled perhaps the biggest agency relationship crisis it had ever faced when P&G acquired the formerly independent shaving products company for $63bn, yet decided to retain BBDO as its global agency – despite it never having appeared on a P&G roster previously.

So why a review now? Why at all in fact? After all, highly public account reviews of this kind  – it’s going to last up to 6 months according to P&G – are as rare as hens’ teeth on Planet Cincinnati.

Naturally enough, P&G is playing down the significance of the review. It’s only a chunk of BBDO’s advertising contract that is under threat, they say – not Braun, not the Venus ladies range, not the media account. As if Hamlet could somehow continue to play without the presence of an insignificant character like the Prince. And they are at pains to reassure us that BBDO advertising is still “good” (according to Patrice Louvet, president global grooming and shave care). But, and here is the kiss of death for the Omnicom-owned advertising network:  “We believe there’s an opportunity to be even better and, importantly, to better integrate the product proposition with the overall idea.”

Let’s unravel all the marketing-speak for a minute. BBDO and its sister below-the-line agency Proximity are going to repitch for the business: sure they are, but with what chance of success? The present advertising stinks, is P&G’s subtext.

P&G has been losing share in some very trying market conditions. There’s a recession on out there. People are thinking of value for money but what they’re seeing in its place is an overpriced top-of-the-range Fusion razor system and a fading mid-market legacy brand, Mach 3, that’s being out-priced and out-promoted by Schick. Gillette’s ace in the pack is innovation: it prides itself on being able to charge its customers more for (literally) cutting-edge razor technology. A replacement for Fusion is coming up – probably in 2014 – and Cincinnati has got the jitters. If Fusion Plus (0r whatever it’s going to be called) doesn’t come up with the premium-priced goods, then P&G shareholders are going to be really unhappy. So, it’s time to blame the messenger – or at any rate keep him mean and keen with an extravagant display of market disciplining.

Wieden & Kennedy – the agency that can do anything, including handling Tesco, these days – is the roster favourite to win the account. But don’t underestimate Andrew Robertson, President and CEO of BBDO Worldwide, as he rises to the account challenge of his career.

Look at the man next to you, now back to me, now look at the Old Spice sales figures, now back to me

July 17, 2010

Flushed with success at Cannes, the progress of Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice Red Zone Body Wash campaign, featuring hunky actor Isaiah Mustafa, seemed unstoppable.

Now the geographical focus has switched from one end of France to the other: Waterloo. Not only has an ambitious foray into the real-time web, involving interactive video, gone into meltdown, but some embarrassing sales figures have emerged. It’s tempting to believe the two things are connected, though that’s doubtful.

“The man your man could smell like”, devised by Wieden & Kennedy, has been an undeniable succès d’estime, but it doesn’t sell product. Not, at least, if we give credence to the SymphonyIRI figures printed in Brandweek: during the 52 weeks ending on June 13, sales of the brand have dropped 7% (excluding the amount sold in WalMart). Bear in mind that the W+K campaign was launched at the Super Bowl in February, so it’s had plenty of time to register a difference.

Taken at face value, this is yet another example of a hackneyed and disagreeable truth. Great creativity may surprise and delight, but often fails to sell product. As Jim Edwards at bNet points out, that’s a great shame because it sets the cause back. Once, P&G was lambasted for its controlling and philistine attitude towards creativity. Now it has changed its ways, it’s probably going to be pilloried for not slashing the price and turning the brand into a moribund cash cow. Or something equally unimaginative. Is Old Spice a dad’s brand, beyond redemption? I don’t know. But it’s certainly possible the marcoms is too sophisticated for the task in hand.

To use a rare (for me) sport analogy, would Germany have won the World Cup had it stuck to its usual, brutally regimented, style instead of adopting the free-flowing, elegant, possession football identified as “gay” by its critics? At the end of the day, it’s all about scoring goals.

UPDATE 27/7/10. Have I been too harsh on the Old Spice Guy’s performance? New sales figures, produced below and printed in Ad Age, suggest a more complex picture than that originally conveyed by the Brandweek article. At first sight, Old Spice seems to have done well, especially in June. On closer inspection, however, P&G’s Gillette has done a lot better. The real winner in the period is probably Unilever’s Dove Men & Care, relaunched in the spring. As Ad Age points out, category uplift has been complicated by heavy couponing and price discounts. Whatever else they may be, the sales figures are not a clear-cut endorsement for Old Spice creativity:

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