Lessons from a recovering Proctoid
I graduated from American University in 1996 with a degree in “Interdisciplinary Studies”. Basically, I got four minors – Communication, Law, Economics and Government. We called it “CLEG” for short.
I really liked my “major”. I took interesting classes and had a lot of thoughtful political debates. But, when I was a senior, I realized I didn’t have a direction for my post-college career. In other words, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do when I grew up.
One of my favorite classes was about political advertising. I remember doing a faux-ad campaign for the presidential election in ’96 (Clinton vs. Dole). So, I was intrigued by the idea of working in advertising. As luck would have it, I networked my way into an entry-level job at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York City after I graduated. I was an “Assistant Account Executive” making $24,000/year.
Even luckier was that I ended up working on the P&G Tide account. When I first was told that I was going to work on Tide, I wasn’t really that excited. I mean, it’s laundry detergent right? It’s not a sexy category like beer or cars.
But, I didn’t really have other options at the time. So, laundry detergent it was. The irony was that I lived in a tiny apartment without a washer/dryer. I always took my laundry to the wash and fold.
Looking back, getting to work on Tide was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my career. And the lessons I learned I still apply to my job every single day.
So, here are 5 key lessons from my time working with Procter & Gamble:
1) Everything starts and ends with the consumer: P&G is known for having an obsessive focus on the consumer. They had a very large in-house research team focused on insights. It’s rare you would ever hear a P&G brand manager say “I think…”. More likely, that brand manager will say “The consumer thinks…” There were many times that my clients wouldn’t like a specific ad we presented, but would approve it because research showed that consumers liked it. It’s that discipline that has helped P&G continue to grow market share in mature categories. They build products and produce advertising that they know consumers will like. In today’s fast paced business environment, research and testing sometimes seems like a lost art. But, if your business is struggling and you want to know why, nothing compares to doing a focus group and hearing directly from customers what the issues are.
2) You need to keep up with changing times: P&G makes products for families – laundry detergent, diapers, paper towels, dishwashing detergent, etc. If you look at old P&G ads from the 50s and 60s, they all look the same. There’s a mom in the kitchen or laundry room. Dad is on the couch and kids are outside rolling in the grass. The family is always white. But, today the definition of the “family” has changed. Divorce, adoption, interracial marriage and gay marriage have redefined the way we think about the family. P&G has changed with the times as well. When I worked on the Tide brand in the mid-90s, we did TV spots about a divorced dad taking care of his kids on the weekend and a white family adopting an Asian child. Showing that P&G understands the modern family dynamic helps the brands connect with all families. You can check out the spot about the family adopting an Asian child below.
3) Advertising must be single-minded: P&G would develop great products that had a ton of great features and benefits. But, when it came to advertising, they were always very careful about cramming too many features into an ad. The focus was on being single-minded with the communication. Evidenced by the name of my blog, you can tell that this lesson stuck with me. I have great respect for the discipline it takes to be single-minded in your communication. See the spot below for Cascade Complete, single-mindedly focused on the message that the product lets you “skip the sink”.
4) Stay ahead of the curve: People would probably be surprised to hear someone call P&G an “innovative” company. I mean, how innovative can you really be with soap and diapers. But, the reality is that P&G is very innovative. They closely study consumer behavior and trends. They’re constantly market testing new ideas for their products. They were the first consumer packaged goods company to really embrace the internet as a marketing tool. Back in the mid-90s, I worked on the original Tide.com that featured an app called the “Stain Detective”. It would show you how to get any stain out of any fabric. There were thousands of different combinations. At the time there was nothing like it on the internet and it ended up getting a lot of buzz and winning awards. You can see a picture of the Stain Detective below. If you want to check out the old Tide website, visit: http://web.archive.org/web/19961226195629/http://www.tide.com/.
5) Be Nice: The thing I most remember about working with P&G, was that the people there were super nice. Maybe it’s that midwestern Cincinnati style. Maybe the company is just good at hiring really smart people who happen to be really pleasant to work with. Whatever it is, they were always a great client that treated me well and taught me a lot about advertising early in my career. And for that, I’ll always be grateful.
And, for those who don’t think that P&G does good advertising, just watch what I think was the best spot from the Super Bowl in 2013. It will probably change your mind.