As top global consumer goods companies, Procter & Gamble and Unilever are conscious of the constant monitoring of their work by ad regulators across the world. How, then, do the two ensure their ads stand out but at the same time don't violate advertising guidelines?
In an interesting discussion organised by the Advertising Standards Council of India here on Friday, Marc Mathieu, Unilever's senior vice-president for global marketing, said the company do this by making social purpose central to its brands.
"If you anchor your marketing development plans not to blatantly push products, but bring about behaviour change, then it would not only help you achieve sales, but also do good in general," he said in a talk that dwelt on 'Responsible Creativity'.
The purpose of the discussion was to sensitise marketers as well as advertising agency professionals on the need for self-regulation.
According to Mathieu, since November 2010, Unilever has been tweaking its marketing strategy based on its Sustainable Living Plan. "Across products such as Lifebuoy, Dove or Domex, we have assigned a higher objective (social objective) to our marketing plans, thereby ensuring we promote them differently," he said.
For example, Lifebuoy, was not about merely fighting germs, but about saving lives, he said. "The moment you assign this higher objective to it (Lifebuoy), your canvass gets larger. It compels you to look around and see the issues that are dogging people. To participate in bringing about a change."
Hindustan Unilever (HUL), Unilever's Indian subsidiary, has been running school contact programmes promoting cleanliness and hygiene in India for the past few years under Lifebuoy. After Sustainable Living Plan was launched, these efforts have been amplified to cover newer areas. An example is HUL's Roti Reminder - special heat stamps on rotis at the Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013 - reminding those eating it to wash their hands. HUL won a Cannes metal for this piece of work that year.
Mathieu also pointed to HUL's work in bringing entertainment to media-dark areas in Jharkand and Bihar through its Khan Khajura Teshan. Making missed calls to a number allows listeners in the two states to enjoy music interspersed with ads for HUL's brands. Khan Khajura Teshan is already Bihar's largest radio station and has helped increase awareness of HUL products in areas that were otherwise not reachable through conventional media channels. It won three Cannes Lions for this piece of work last year.
On the other hand, Procter & Gamble India's managing director Shantanu Khosla says it was consumers who created the rules for advertising. "Society is both a source of insight and the result of our communication," he said. According to him, social framework is a gift box for meaningful consumer insights and communication. "As advertisers, we have to keep this in mind all the time."
P&G, which markets Gillette, Whisper, Olay and Pampers, had to take into account the cultural sensitivities of Muslim-dominated Malaysia when promoting its haircare brand Pantene.
"Women are not allowed to show their hair in Malaysia. Their heads are covered in veils. So what do you do? P&G worked around this with ads that had showed the model speaking about how the use of Pantene helped her reduce hair loss. The ad showed the woman holding a comb, which had no hair strands. The model was completely covered from head to toe. We kept in mind the cultural sensitivity of that region. This ad was very successful in Malaysia and helped Pantene make inroads in that market," said Khosla.
The head of P&G India had other examples to share on how marketers could be sensitive to issues around them. At the height of the protests following the Nirbhaya gangrape in December 2012 in Delhi, P&G ran a digital campaign for Gillette where it attempted to rally men around the idea of protecting women the way soldiers would do their nation. "This was in response to the issue of women's safety as well as respect for women in general, which were burning subjects in the wake of what had happened in Delhi. There was this whole debate between members of the marketing team at Gillette as to whether we were exploiting the situation by running an ad campaign such as this. But at the end of it, we felt there was a need to convey this message to men," said Khosla.
On feminine hygiene brands such as Whisper, Khosla said P&G had covered significant ground. "From 25 years ago, when we had to convince the regulator at Doordarshan about carrying an ad for a sanitary napkin, to now where marketing communication for this category is common, we have come a long way. Advertising regulation evolves as consumers and markets evolve. I don't think regulation is a barrier to creativity."