Procter & Gamble’s
advertising targeting African-Americans has paid off By Cliff Peale
Cincinnati Enquirer (February 25, 2007) When Procter & Gamble Co. rolled out its Tide with
a Touch of Downy detergent in late 2004, it included a special advertising
campaign targeting African-American consumers.
"Nostalgia Dad" featured an African-American man lovingly cradling his
sleeping young son. The ad was designed to convey warmth and fatherly
caretaking, and the pair's crisp white T-shirts seemed almost peripheral.
It also was designed to counter stereotypes of fatherless African-American
"It was very deliberate to have a man with his son," says Najoh Tita-Reid,
associate director of P&G's multicultural marketing unit. "It was very
deliberate for him to have a wedding ring on."
The heartwarming images are only the latest evolution of a 40-year
movement inside Cincinnati-based P&G to try to reach more black consumers.
The early efforts - in the 1960s, when racial tensions throughout the
country were running high and white faces dominated nearly every
commercial message - were not without risks. Today P&G is acknowledged as
a leader in creating advertising for black consumers.
"Without question, P&G has to be seen as one of the companies that other
companies pattern their behavior after," says Ken Smikle, president of
Target Market News in Chicago,
which tracks patterns of advertising to black consumers.
Along the way, reputations were made and enhanced. Crest toothpaste used a
young Bill Cosby for a television commercial in 1969. In the 1980s, some
Tide ads featured the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
In the past decade, the movement has accelerated. P&G spends at least six
times more on media targeting black consumers than it did five years ago.
And it's constantly adding new ways to reach black consumers - for example
a 2004 sponsorship deal with the popular Tom Joyner morning radio show.
Today you'll see Queen Latifah on commercials and Internet sites pitching
a Cover Girl line for black women. Angela Bassett promotes the benefits of
Olay body lotion for African-American skin. Soon, Tiger Woods will tout
the virtues of Gillette razors.
Black spending power is driving much of P&G's strategy. The $68 billion
company has pledged to investors that it will add at least 5 percent to
total sales every year, and the spending power of black Americans is an
important piece of that growth, having reached $799 billion in 2006,
according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of
Procter executives say they want both marketing efforts and employee base
to reflect the more diverse face of the 21st century American consumer.
"We need to define diversity broadly and leverage it to the hilt,"
chairman and chief executive A.G. Lafley said last fall at an internal
event. "Being 'in touch' is an attitude. To lead in this kind of
environment, we need a balance of business skills and empathetic skills."
Sallie Elliott of North College Hill says Procter's ads and products must
meet her personal credibility test: Black faces are not just there for
show, and products are made specifically for African-Americans.
"It's imperative that I see African-American faces in those spots. But it
needs to be more than that," says Elliott, who was publisher of the former
Applause magazine and now promotes the local "Reaching for the Stars"
event that honors young African-Americans for community leadership.
"Sometimes, it's like the ad is just whitewashed, not an ad that gets
talked about in the beauty shop," she says. "If it gets talked about in
the beauty shop, then it's on target."
A new company strategy
Decades before "African-American" became part of contemporary corporate
lexicon, P&G was one of a group of companies that realized there was money
to be made by targeting that demographic group. Companies such as PepsiCo.
and McDonald's made early inroads, and P&G executives say they regarded
commercials from Coca-Cola Co. as an example they could emulate.
Pepsi's early efforts were documented recently in the book "The Real Pepsi
Challenge," and Pepsi was credited with helping define niche marketing. As
early as the 1940s, Pepsi defied stereotypical images of black families
and portrayed them in positive and loving ways.
P&G's efforts started slowly - putting black faces in ads and using black
celebrities to endorse products. That generally happened in a limited
number of brands whose managers took an interest in the subject.
Bob Wehling, P&G's retired top marketing executive who was the brand
manager on Crest and produced the Cosby commercial in 1969, says it was
clear even then that the African-American and Hispanic populations were
growing demographic groups that companies needed to recognize.
After Wehling became a general manager in the late 1970s, he started an
ethnic marketing unit that for the first time made targeting non-white
consumers an official P&G strategy.
Earlier efforts had including giving out samples of Crest through black
churches. But in typical Procter style, it was methodical, building
research on demographic trends and spending power and marshaling support
"It's like anything else at P&G," Wehling says. "You start slow and you
keep preaching the gospel, and pretty soon people start to pay attention."
While early ads produced a few complaints over P&G's toll-free phone
lines, management held firm, says Buddy Tucker, who left P&G last year as
director of global media and communications but was head of one of the
early ethnic-marketing units in the 1980s.
"I am proud to say that when we received some racist backlash from a small
number of consumers over the 800-lines, management stood behind us and
remained committed to reaching out to ethnic consumers," Tucker says.
In the 1980s, P&G helped establish a series of Black Family Reunion
celebrations nationally. Within P&G, there was a Black Advertising
Leadership Team to push the effort.
"The biggest roadblock was just time, time for people to focus on it,"
Tucker says. "It was the (population) numbers, combined with the cultural
differences, that made it such an opportunity, and frankly such a
After a lull in the late 1990s as P&G reorganized itself internally, it
has taken the next step in the last half-decade and started to design
product lines specifically for black consumers.
P&G's hiring efforts also reflect its interest in diversity. The company
has recruited black marketing executives for years, and in the past 10
years has increased the number of African-Americans in marketing by 25
percent. Promotions to the middle-manager level of brand manager have
increased by half.
Tita-Reid herself is one example of P&G's hiring strategy. She is a
product of Inroads, the career-development program for high-school
students, and first worked for P&G at age 17. Now 34, the graduate of
Spelman College in Atlanta with an MBA from Duke University had worked for
several years on the Pampers business before moving to her current
assignment with the multicultural unit.
She says her career path shows P&G trying to stay in touch with its
"I feel like I'm a perfect example that P&G has the insight to hire
diverse talent," she says. 'It brings back memories'
Procter's strategy to woo black consumers in the United States is twofold:
Research what black consumers want and tailor the products to them.
P&G's research showed that Hispanic and African-American consumers value
scents and flavors. That has led to scents in Gain detergent and the
flavored Crest Whitening Expressions toothpaste line.
And Olay Definity is marketed as an anti-aging cream to white women but
touted for its ability to smooth skin tones for black women, Tita-Reid
says. "Products like these, they really make you feel like you're
Create marketing programs with a heavy dose of black media and black
Alliances with black-owned advertising agencies and a formal alliance with
the creators of the Tom Joyner Morning Show has set the stage, and
celebrities including Queen Latifah on Cover Girl and Bassett on Olay
Quench body lotion soon followed.
P&G's approaches worked with Tide and the fatherly images depicted in
"Nostalgia Dad." The marketing campaign included television and print ads
but also online music clips and radio spots on the Tom Joyner show.
As a result, African-American consumers started buying a disproportionate
share of Tide with a Touch of Downy compared to the general market. But
after launching the campaign in Sister2Sister and Jet magazines, P&G found
it worked for mainstream media as well.
"The insights worked so well for all consumers that it became a general
campaign," Tita-Reid says. "For us, that's a wonderful thing."
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'Buying Power' report shows black consumers spending more on home life
As the American economy continues to move sluggishly,
African-American households are curtailing their spending in many
categories, including food, clothing and basic household items, while
investing more in home repair, home entertainment and consumer
electronics. Although they are trimming back, black consumers are still
spending more than their white counterparts on most of these products. Story and statistics