“The Talk” Wins A Battle, But Loses The War

P&G’s commercial “The Talk” has generated millions of views and shares, and generated lots of commentary both supporting and deriding it. It’s a shoo-in for some sort of award next year in Cannes.

It’s also a perfect example of what’s wrong with brands these days.

You can imagine how it came to be. Research said that consumers want to get authenticity and relevance from companies, and online behavioral data suggested the most sharable content is the least commercial.

And, let’s face it, detergent is detergent, so what the hell can P&G tell us that matters anymore? Its vaunted brands were created in a different world, where mass media let it construct imaginary value. Those days are over; we have the Internet.

So what does the legitimate and difficult reality prompt P&G to deliver? An ad that isn’t about the company or its products.

Any company could have done the same thing; some already have, like Starbucks’ ill-fated “Race Together” campaign in 2015, which prompted lots of pushback asking what does buying coffee have to do with the issue?

About the same as it does with buying soap. It makes me wonder how many clients the agency tried to sell on the idea before P&G bought it.

And that’s the problem, really. In all of the vastness of P&G’s people, places, and policies, it had nothing to say about actual action on any of the issues feeding into “The Talk.” There’s nothing it does differently, no vaunted preconception or business standard it’s willing to shred for a greater good. There’s no operational truth to share.

Nope. It simply bought airtime to #Talkaboutbias that’s untethered to anything other than an artifact of creative marketing, so people who already talk about bias are talking about their opinions about talking about bias. The company’s campaign website touts a link to learn more about its commitment to diversity and inclusion, but tees-up a page of other ads.

The half-life of such endeavors is pretty short, in that they only last as long as a client pays to keep the campaign running. Any sales lift attributed to it could just as easily be achieved by giving consumers that expenditure as a product discount.

At best, feel-good campaigns are a 21st century sales promotion.

It’s too bad, because “The Talk” is real, even if the campaign isn’t, and many people are losing faith in businesses and public institutions because they don’t see much change in their lives on the thorniest issues.

There’s an emerging crisis of confidence in the very practices of capitalism, which are often blamed for inflaming the very problems that progress was supposed to fix.

Imagine if P&G had chosen to actually do something about bias, and given consumers a reason to believe and support it over time instead of liking an ad it bought?

Producing an award-worthy campaign might win the battle for attention in the short term, but it actively lessens the credibility and trust for P&G, and all brands, over the long haul.

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