Flush With New Ideas About Ads
Procter & Gamble massages its messages
For holiday shoppers in New York's Times Square last December, it seemed like an oasis. In the middle of a Broadway block, a huge, blue neon sign reading "Restrooms" beckoned visitors to ride an escalator to a second-story waiting area with flat-screen televisions, couches, and a fireplace. Twenty pristine toilets in stalls with hardwood floors, each hand-cleaned by a waiting attendant, provided locals and tourists welcome relief.
The endeavor wasn't the gift of an altruistic bathroom benefactor. Instead, it was Procter & Gamble's attention-grabbing bid to hawk Charmin toilet paper. In an effort to reach customers who increasingly ignore television commercials and browse YouTube, P&G has been testing out new marketing moves at a frenzied pace over the past two years. "I don't think we can afford not to experiment," says Lynne Boles, vice president of global advertising at P&G. "We're going to try everything." So far, some experiments have worked better than others, but the trial-and-error attitude represents a fundamental shift making its way through consumer product companies selling everything from soda to soap.
"There has been more change in marketing in the last five years than the previous 30," says Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers. Until recently, marketers had their choice of television, radio, and print, and they developed a good sense of how those media worked. Now, Liodice says, "technology has put the customer in control, and that's forcing marketing into newer forms." While advertisers are excited about the idea of better reaching consumers, the media landscape is changing so rapidly that there's still a lot of confusion over what's working and what's not.
Spending on alternative advertising rose 16.4 percent in the first half of last year, mostly on mobile and Internet marketing, according to research firm PQ Media. That compares with a bump of 4.5 percent during the same time in spending on traditional advertising such as television and newspapers. Cincinnati-based P&G, the nation's biggest advertiser, boosted its global ad spending 15 percent last year to $6.8 billion.
Young eyes. While old standbys account for the lion's share of advertising dollars, as companies get savvier, they will spend more on newer avenues such as cellphones and blogs, says Mike Kelley, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory. P&G says the Times Square toilets were the second-biggest chunk of Charmin's ad budget last year, behind television. While 425,000 people checked out the restrooms during December, the campaign spawned nine videos on YouTube, which attracts 20 million visitors a month. Most of those perusing the site are under 30, a holy grail for marketers looking to create customers for life.
About five years ago, P&G began rethinking how to make its advertising more relevant to consumers, who are now in the driver's seat in deciding when and where they want to see or hear a commercial pitch. The company shifted the way it handled advertising, focusing first on the idea rather than the medium. Instead of starting, say, with a new Tide TV commercial, P&G created what it calls a "media-neutral idea" that could be translated into several different marketing efforts. So far, the company has applied the media-neutral approach to 11 of its more than 300 brands.