THINK only politics makes strange bedfellows? Look what Procter & Gamble has wrought.
The company long ago split up its advertising, with Tide laundry detergent now handled by Saatchi & Saatchi, Bounce antistatic dryer sheets by Leo Burnett Toronto and Downy fabric softener by Grey Worldwide. But now the company has put the scent of Febreze, its household odor freshener for fabrics, into all three products. So which agency gets to trumpet that fact?
Procter's answer: All of them. Grey, since it already has the Febreze account, is the lead player on an all-inclusive ad that introduces the idea of Febreze showing up in the three sister products. But each agency is also coming up with its own ad for its own product. The unusual catch is that all the ads must end with the same visual and text tag line as the original. The very concept has industry eyebrows shooting up.
''Three big agencies consulting, and agreeing to the same tag line? Now, that's unusual,'' said Nicholas Donatiello, president of Odyssey, a San Francisco market research firm. ''I guess when you're one of the biggest advertisers in the world, agencies do what you want.''Apparently so. The normally competitive account executives from those agencies -- along with representatives from agencies catering to African-American, Latino and other specialized markets -- have been meeting for much of this year. First, they helped Grey fine-tune its idea for the first commercial. And lately they've been figuring out how they can coordinate their own campaigns without compromising the themes they have been developing -- Bounce as a modern, cheeky product that fights static cling during drying, Tide as a route to truly clean laundry, Downy for moms who really care about soft clothes.
''Each brand already had separate campaigns in the works, so working towards something that pulls us all together took an awful lot of coordination,'' said Heather M. Chambers, a creative director at Leo Burnett Toronto. For the niche agencies, the task was even harder; they had to create commercials that fitted a universal theme yet resonated particularly well with a specific market.
''We had to figure out whether this product was even viable for African-Americans, whether they even want Febreze in their Tide,'' said Danielle Robinson, account supervisor at Burrell Communications of Chicago, which specializes in marketing to blacks.
For Procter, the approach is a practical stab at encouraging growth for some mature brands. ''Each brand is a category leader, but few households use all of them,'' said Edgar Sandoval, Procter's marketing director for fabric softeners. ''An integrated advertising effort is a great way to get the loyal Febreze customers to use Tide, Downy and Bounce.''
It is also, in these days of data clutter, highly cost-effective. ''As TV becomes less effective, you need to figure out how to get more out of it,'' Mr. Donatiello said. Procter is not being chintzy, though. At more than $50 million, this will be the most expensive fabric care campaign Procter has ever mounted.
Fortunately for the agencies, the initial Grey ad is not that hard to play off. It shows a boy, about 11 years old, avidly sniffing -- an almost iconic image in Febreze ads -- the sofa cushions, as a voiceover asks ''Like that fresh scent of Febreze on your couch?'' In walks his mother, carrying a laundry basket. He runs to her, rummages through the basket, picks out a pair of boxer shorts and sniffs them, too. He puts them on his head, the elastic down to his nose, as the voiceover says ''Now you can get it in laundry.'' So what if he can't see, and so what if he walks into a wall? Clearly, the scent is worth it.
Mom says ''O.K.'' in a bemused ''boys will be boys'' tone of voice, and the camera shifts to Tide, Downy and Bounce sitting atop a washer-dryer as the Febreze logo gently settles on each package. The tag line is ''A Fresh Approach to Laundry.''
''We're using familiarity with Febreze to tie together a washing regimen,'' said Rebecca Higgins, an executive vice president of Grey. ''Wash your clothes in Tide, soften them with Downy, put Bounce in the dryer.''
The omnibus ad, which began its run Aug. 1, is being shown during daytime programs like ''Guiding Light,'' ''The Early Show'' on CBS and ''The View'' -- clearly aimed at stay-at-home moms -- as well as broader-reaching programs such as ''Nightline,'' ''Crazy for You,'' ''Will & Grace'' and ''Becker.'' The ad will probably run six weeks. Then the individual product ads will kick in. ''The first ad was the jumping-off point for all of us, but then they gave us the creative freedom to do what we needed to do,'' Ms. Chambers said.
Grey is still working on its Downy ad. The others are further along.
Tide is going the ethnic route, bypassing Saachi and using Burrell's ethnic commercial for the general market. The music track has what Ms. Robinson calls ''R.&B. neo-classical soul,'' but the concept is race-neutral: an African-American mother comes across her teenage son's old sports Jersey in the laundry, smells it and immediately has flashbacks of his growing up. Her reverie ends when he walks in. ''Scent is the best conduit to memory and emotion, and that's universal,'' said Elvira Rodriguez, a Burrell art director.
Bounce, in the biggest departure of all, is featuring a 30-ish guy packing a suitcase straight from his laundry basket, of course smelling the clothes along the way. When he turns his back on the suitcase, it becomes anthropomorphic, opening and shutting and saying ''Aah.'' Whenever he tries to catch the suitcase speaking, it freezes. Bounce also has developed a print ad that shows a shirt, buttonholes replaced by smiley faces, the Bounce-on-dryer image and ''Fresh Approach'' tag line on bottom.
The collaboration, now over, has left surprisingly little bitter aftertaste. For example, Kim S. Koster, a Burnett managing partner, went to all the meetings. It was the first time she had worked with agencies that handled other products. ''It didn't feel competitive, which was really surprising,'' she said. ''Now that the neuron paths for cooperation have been burned into our brains, I wouldn't be opposed to doing this kind of collaboration again.''
Photo: One TV ad by Grey Worldwide features a boy sniffing his fresh-smelling underwear. (Photo by Grey Worldwide)
Deutsch, Claudia H. "A Fresh Approach to Marketing For Procter's 'Fresh Approach to Laundry'." New York Times 8 Aug. 2005: C7(L). Academic OneFile. Web. 8 Nov. 2009.
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