“P&G doesn’t understand brands”.

What? The company which pioneered brand management doesn’t understand brands. You must be joking? Provoked? So was I. But then I saw reason.

In late 1999, over a year out of P&G, I was sitting next to our Global Marketing director for dinner during a training program. We started talking and I soon discovered that he too was a Procter alumnus. I asked him for his reasons for leaving P&G ( mine was not a reason, it was more a punt which turned out well). He said, “they don’t understand brands”. Stunned for a moment, I recovered enough to ask him why he felt so. Here is the story.

He was working on Pampers and he went to his business head with a complete business plan for extending Pampers into baby care products taking on J&J’s virtual monopoly on a fat (make that humungus) margin business. His boss said, “You don’t understand. We are in the paper business”. At that moment I had to agree with his provocative statement. 

1999 was the peak of P&G’s struggle to redefine and re-invent itself. Everyone was taking a perverse delight in taking a swipe at them. However that delight didn’t last long and the elephant learnt to dance, and how ( for details read the previous post).

It still took P&G a few years after this dinner conversation to move from a functional benefit/ technological superiority led approach to a truly consumer centric approach to brands. The new P&G brand bible is aptly titled, “Consumer is boss” brand building. Crest is no longer just about “cavity protection”. Its biggest recent hits have been whitening strips and spin brush. There is a crest floss and also a (kind of ) co-branded mouthwash with Scope.This was unimaginable earlier. “We need to focus on our core equity – protection”, would have resonated loudly in the Asst Brand Manager’s ears if he had dared to suggest that . Its about total oral care now ( my interpretation) delivering “healthier brighter smiles every day”.

Here is what Jim Stengel, P&G CMO has to say on the topic,

“If you go back at Procter & Gamble, and in a lot of the industry, we often thought of our brands in terms of functional benefits. But the equity of great brands has to be something that a consumer finds inspirational and an organization finds inspirational. You know, our baby-care business didn’t start growing aggressively [in the early 2000s] until we changed Pampers from being about dryness to being about helping Mom with her baby’s development. That was a sea change. Or look at all the different areas we are in at Olay. That’s because Olay is not just about being a pink fluid that moisturizes. It is about helping women look better and feel better as they age.

It all begins with this idea that we want to make life better. We want to serve better. We want to make a difference. That leads you to a different place than a functional benefit. That has been one of the transformational things about P&G over the past seven or eight years. Our equities are much broader, and our people are much more inspired. That’s why you see so many of our brands growing. “

My 2 pennies worth: While Pampers has moved on from “superior dryness” to “helping moms with baby’s development” (in P&G CMO’s words), the product range is still paper based products ( e.g wipes). How about other baby care products e.g body lotions? P&G knows babies, P&G knows skin. What is holding it back? Maybe I am missing something. Similarly, IAMS can be about total Pet care and not just Pet Nutrition. Even while staying within the nutrition umbrella, accessories like self dosing feeding  bowls which can actually aid nutrition can be explored.

That is why I said in my previous post, “not fully there yet”.

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5 responses to ““P&G doesn’t understand brands”.

  1. Great! We tend to look up to P&G, thinking they are great in everything (heard it a lot across my organisation). It helps to bring a bit of reality. But hontesly, this sounds a bit too late – to discover that brands are not products.

  2. This is definitely a very inspiring article about how P&G evolves. Moving from functional benefits-skewed vision to a more all-encompassing and aspirational proposition defintely takes time, and it is an evolution of brand proposition over time. The challenge and learning for us is probably about how we can re-shape successful (may not be sustainable in the long term) existing offers and turn them into an aspirational proposition that can stand the test of time.

  3. Super Strong Jenny

    A great brand building process P&G developed, now I see there is a reason behind of their fruitful innovations…
    Their walk with consumer approach to get powerful insight is impressive, I m not sure the approach used in assessing market conducted by every end-market, but its a respected mindset and will benefit in long run…
    Innovation clearly integrated through the whole process, thats probably one good reason of their speedy action to make new faces on market. It might also require a very effective structure to support…for example heard of they have designing team in every end-market business unit…
    The holistic product experience development is another impression, as everything get included from FMOT to SMOT, some smart new products we saw on market with added special senses to enrich using experience…not missing single opportunity to touch consumers, admirable.

  4. Why P&G didn’t develop Pampers as “Total Baby Development Brand”? I think I will say that because Pampers/ Baby Care is not longer as one of P&G’s core categories. After acquiring Wella and Gillette, and long-time intention to buy Nivea, P&G’s growing path seems to be more into Beauty and Health. In addition, over diversify and capitalize on one brand or its equity sometimes ruin it.

  5. This was an insightful post. A marketer myself, one is so used to considering P&G as the Holy Grail, that I was shocked to read about the Pampers brand manager comment that ‘we are in the paper business’. Sounds more like manufacturer-speak than a consumer-oriented company. And on Pampers, being a mom myself, I agree, I’d buy an entire range of products from Pampers, why just diapers and wipes?

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