P&G’s Pritchard outlines 4-point plan to dismantle racial inequality

Linda J. Dodson

Table of Contents

Dive Brief:

  • Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard outlined the packaged goods giant’s plan to eliminate racial inequality, an initiative that the executive said has taken on fresh significance in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and mass civil unrest over police brutality and racial violence.
  • Speaking during a virtual Cannes Lions event, a transcript of which was provided by P&G after its broadcast, the executive detailed four benchmarks the marketer has set for itself, firstly to achieve 40% multicultural representation in the U.S. Secondly, P&G is accelerating its investments in third-party Black-owned and -operated media companies, agencies and marketing suppliers.
  • In its marketing and advertising, P&G is enacting reviews to ensure Black people — and all people — are represented fairly by applying solutions like the Association of National Advertiser’s Cultural Insights Impact Measure that debuted last fall. Finally, P&G is taking a closer look at its media plan to ensure it’s not advertising near content that is “hateful, denigrating or discriminatory.” Pritchard said P&G will take action when its standards are not met, including by cutting off spending.

Dive Insight:

Pritchard’s comments provide greater detail on the actions P&G is taking internally to combat racial inequality, a topic that’s been central to recent ad campaigns from the Cincinnati-based marketer behind brands like Charmin and Tide. Long active in the purpose-led marketing space, P&G was relatively quiet during the first few months of the pandemic, but reignited its consumer-facing messaging as a parallel protest movement emerged over the police killing of George Floyd in late May.

Pritchard reinforced that the latest calls for racial justice and the pandemic are linked in important ways, noting that Black Americans are up to 340% more likely to die from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

“The people who are the most discriminated against suffer disproportionately,” Pritchard said during the Cannes Lion stream. “Crises like COVID reveal the cracks in society…and we cannot let those inequalities widen. In fact, now is the time to accelerate efforts to address the significant inequalities that exist.”

He said that P&G was less active in its public proclamations during the pandemic’s early days as a deliberate choice, noting that actions speak louder than words. However, a wave of ongoing global protests have led to higher consumer expectations and calls for brands to speak out.

Earlier this month, P&G released an ad titled “The Choice” that urges white people to recognize their own privilege and actively back anti-racist causes, such as by marching, donating and voting. The spot, which does not mention any P&G brands, is the centerpiece of a multimillion dollar advertising push this month that’s seen the company sponsor several specials centered on the protests, along with providing online resources for people looking to get more active in the cause.

“The Choice” builds on past P&G ads discussing race, like “The Talk” from 2017 and “The Look” from last year, but also mirrors efforts from other marketers, like Nike, that have addressed the current protest movement by specifically calling out the actions white people can take to combat prejudice. While more brands are joining the fold in supporting organizations like Black Lives Matter, scrutiny toward broader corporate practices is also climbing given the intense sensitivity of the subject. The harsher spotlight has led some ads, including P&G’s, to skirt the line of reading as more exploitative than empowering, according to some consumer sentiment analyses.

During his Cannes Lions talk, Pritchard admitted that P&G still has ways to go in ensuring its own house is in order when it comes to equal representation.

“We’re making solid progress, but we’re way short within our agency teams, and nowhere near where we need to be on production crews,” Pritchard said. “The goals are clear, and will require further interventions in hiring, training, pipeline development, tracking and accountability.”

P&G announcing it will consider cutting off spending to media channels and platforms that allow hate also raised questions over whether the company would join a Facebook advertiser boycott that, at publishing time, includes The North Face, REI, Patagonia, Verizon, Eddie Bauer, Ben & Jerry’s and Arc’teryx. Brands are responding to new pressures from civil rights groups that believe Facebook does not do enough to crack down on hate speech and misinformation on its platforms, a cause that’s manifested in a #StopHateforProfit hashtag. Ad Age noted that dozens of P&G brands continue to advertise on Facebook, but the company isn’t totally ruling out a freeze.

“We fully support freedom of expression and discourse across a wide spectrum, but as in advertising, the words and images in media programming and content matter, and we are holding ourselves and all providers — broadcasters, publishers and digital platforms alike — to a high standard of quality and civility in order to eliminate bias and promote equality,” Pritchard said at the close of his Cannes Lions talk.

P&G’s spending power and reputation as a trendsetter in marketing would add considerable new heft to the boycott push. The CPG giant today was named the No. 1 Brand Marketer of the Decade by Cannes Lions.

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