CPG brands get provocative to stand out from the pack

Marketing strategy shifts at major CPG companies such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever indicate their brand marketing and communications initiatives will take on edgier tones and use more engaging tactics.

Marketing strategy shifts at major CPG companies such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever indicate their brand marketing and communications initiatives will take on edgier tones and use more engaging tactics, say industry experts.

“[CPG goods] are staples in people's lives; consumers are purchasing them every week or month and they are woven into people's lives much more than a big electronics purchase, for instance. In many ways, CPG companies have to become cleverer and break through the routine nature of the category,” says Jim Joseph, president of North America at Cohn & Wolfe. “CPG companies also don't have the same kinds of regulatory restrictions that financial services or healthcare companies do, and they have great equity, so they can take risks.”

Last week, Procter & Gamble said it will reorganize its communications unit under Marc Pritchard, the company's global marketing and brand building officer, once its global external relations officer Chris Hassall retires on June 30. The company made the change in part because it wanted to establish direct relationships with consumers, said Paul Fox, director of external relations at P&G.

“Our ambition is to establish one-on-one relationships with all the consumers we serve today. That requires a broad marketing mix from traditional advertising and promotions to PR,” he said. “That approach has to be holistic, and I think we've seen progressively over recent years the role digital platforms, including social media, can play in helping to establish those relationships.”

Alan Kercinik, EVP in Ogilvy PR's Strategy+Planning group, explains that packaged goods companies are turning to provocative content to stand out in a category known for the time-tested promotion of convenience and value. He cites Miracle Whip, which launched a campaign earlier this year using imagery similar to that of Occupy Wall Street with the slogan “Keep an Open Mouth,” as an example

“They had a definite point of view on what that brand would be about, and they're doing it in a way that is more conversational and breaks up the usual condiment advertising – seeing it spread on the bread. It's maybe edgier and breaking with convention a little more, and that's where the work is starting to go,” he says.

Fox cites Old Spice's “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign and Secret's “Mean Stinks” effort as examples of mold-breaking P&G campaigns, as well as the “Thank You, Mom” Olympic-themed ads.

Meanwhile, fellow CPG giant Unilever said this week that it has inked deals with Fox and Viacom to sponsor straight-to-the-web content. The company plans to sponsor a YouTube channel featuring stories about women, promoting its brands such as Nexus hair care and Bertoli frozen food. In October, Unilever shook up its marcomms strategy to reward risk-taking in campaigns, rather than making decisions solely with quantitative data. A Unilever representative could not be reached for comment.

Industry experts say the CPG companies' moves will make their communications departments a more integral part of their overall marketing plans, and they also expect them to launch initiatives that express a greater purpose to consumers.

“There are special relationships people have with everything they use, from the places they go on vacation to the clothing they wear,” explains Denise Vitola, practice director for consumer health and personal care at MSLGroup. “They're not specific to just CPG brands, but certainly consumers are looking for deep emotional connections where they can feel good about what they're doing and purchasing, and that's why a lot of cause campaigns are rising to the top as well.”

Aside from CSR work, CPG brands will likely tie themselves to “the higher order or purpose of the brand,” adds Kercinik, who uses Suave as an example of how a household brand can tie itself to a core ideal.

“It's shampoo, but they said, ‘We really believe moms should not have to pay a lot to take care of themselves,' and that goes beyond the functional,” he says. “That's what I think of for purpose-driven marketing.”

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