Which Side of History Is Your Brand On? P&G’s Marc Pritchard Says Now’s the Time to Make It Clear

A look at the collaboration that made a difference

P&G's Marc Pritchard (speaking on microphone) at I.D.E.A's Cannes In Color. Courtesy of Doug Zanger

For parts of the American population, “the talk” generally revolves around sex. For others, the conversation is decidedly different.

“Uniquely, in the African-American home, it’s time for me to prepare my child to be black in America,” said Teneshia Jackson Warner, CCO at Egami Group, a New York-based integrated multicultural marketing and communications agency that worked with BBDO on the lauded and highly-award “The Talk” for Procter & Gamble.

The work marked a crucial step for P&G and one that demanded the commensurate care throughout the creative process, ensuring accuracy. The team from Egami was tasked with creating a concept that was both truthful and authentic. As the spot was shown to focus groups, stakeholders, employees, influencers and trusted individuals, tweaks needed to be made to illustrate better, more authentic representation.

“We heard that this is a great piece of work but that we needed to come back and show this through the lens of an African-American male, for example,” said Jackson Warner.

“The images portrayed in advertising matter,” added Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer. “They unconsciously embed bias. I think the days of general audience and general marketing are gone—and I think that’s a good thing. What people want is to see themselves.”

Pritchard, speaking on the Spotify beach stage at this year’s I.D.E.A. Initiative Cannes In Color program with Jackson Warner, Kendra Bracken-Ferguson, chief digital officer of CAA-GBG and Spotify CMO Seth Farbman to discuss brand responsibility and commitment to diversity and inclusion, pointed out the brand’s unquestioned position.

“This is not a time to be unclear on what your point of view is [and] what side of history you choose to be on,” he said.

“We know that diversity is a business need,” said stage host Danielle Lee, global head of partner solutions for Spotify. “There was a time in our industry where companies and brands stayed away from this topic that was perceived to be controversial. That’s not the world we live in today. Consumers want to know where brands stand.”

Taking on the hate head-on

There was a palpable buzz around “The Talk,” Spotify’s Lion-winning “I’m With the Banned” and other campaigns that generated even more conversation about the role that brands play in society. But P&G presented a fascinating study in courage and commitment.

For her part, Jackson Warner wanted to ensure that the brand was all-in.

“We asked: ‘First things first. Is there a true commitment here?’ Because the bigger the issue you tackle, the bigger the backlash,” said Jackson Warner. “The brand was well aware of the backlash, were prepared and said that no matter what, ‘We’re going to stay the course.’”

Additionally, P&G, which has worked over the last two and a half years to close their employee inclusion gap, needed to “make sure that your house is in order before you release this,” Jackson Warner said of more stakeholder feedback. “If not, that’s where they’re going to come [for you], and they’ll look at [P&G’s] diversity numbers.”

As expected, the response at the beginning of the launch was positive in large part because, as Jackson Warner put it, “the community owned the conversation.” Then, predictably, conservatives on Twitter and other social media claimed race-baiting, which caught momentum.

“We expected it all, but it did not take away some of those painful moments when we read those personal emails,” said Jackson Warner.

“I got some of the most hateful mail I’ve ever seen,” added Pritchard. “We had a call to make, and we decided if not now, then when? If not us, then who? So we doubled down.”

Indeed, the sheer breadth and scope of P&G’s footprint and impact (Pritchard said that P&G brands touch 5 billion people per day) make it an easy target, but Pritchard indicated that this moment in society was the spark to take a stand.

“The ‘why now?’ is because, particularly in the United States, where there’s been progress made on so many fronts, we have so much divisiveness,” said Pritchard. “We have to do it now. Now is the time for us to step up.”

In the end, though “The Talk” is a crucial moment, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done, a task that Pritchard feels the creative community is uniquely equipped to tackle.

“It’s hard work, but it can be done,” he said. “When we have conversations, that leads to understanding. Understanding leads to attitude change. Attitude change leads to behavior change and behavior change lease to positive action where, eventually, we can all be equal.”

See Adweek’s interview with Malk Vitthal, director of “The Talk,” and how the team brought a unifying and thoughtful vision to the finished product.

@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.