Procter & Gamble or Coca Cola?

Did you know that Procter & Gamble pioneered soap operas? While ‘Painted Dreams’ is considered to be the oldest soap opera program (on radio), it wasn’t until P & G launched ‘Ma Perkins’ on radio in 1933 that the term was coined. 

In case you are curious, the story revolves around a widow forced to juggle financial and family problems, while at the same time promoting Oxydol, P & G’s laundry detergent. 

This was just before WWII. By the start of the war, P & G was producing more than 21 different radio soap operas EVERY WEEK. Another significant event in 1939 was the launch of the TV. Within 5 months of launch, P & G aired its first TV commercial. They also continued producing soap operas for TV. By the end of the war, P & G’s revenues had reached nearly $350m. 

(Interesting fact: Neil McElroy, one of the marketeers behind these innovations, later became the US Secretary of defence. He also pioneered brand P & Ls in the CPG industry.)

Getting back to ad spend, very similar to P & G, Coca Cola launched one of its most effective campaigns around the same time, during the Great Depression – The pause that refreshes. During the first year of this campaign, sales is said to have doubled. And then WWII happened. Coca Cola continued its ad spend during this time, and the then company president, Robert W. Woodruff even declared that any American soldier could get a coke for 5 US cents, regardless of its actual price.

Coca Cola’s ads during this time focussed on the softer sides of conflict; on Coke’s ability to bring people and nations together. The ads showed American soldiers drinking Coke and laughing with British, Soviet, Polish, Brazilian & Chinese soldiers, with a caption around ‘ Have a coke’, with messaging around solidarity.

Fast forward nearly 80 years, we have another crisis and the two companies have diametrically opposite strategies for ad spend. 

The Coca Cola company has decided to suspend all its marketing activity in several of its markets during Covid. 

Here’s a direct quote from The Drum on what drove this decision, “We’re being … mindful about the right level of brand marketing and new product launches given the consumer mindset across market,” Quincey told investors yesterday (21 April). “We’ve developed and determined that in this initial phase there is limited effectiveness to broad-based brand marketing.”
“With this in mind, we’ve reduced our direct consumer communication we’ll pause sizable marketing campaigns through the early stages of the crisis and reengage when the timing is right. These plans will vary from market to market with our earliest reengagement focusing on the recovery in China.

At the same time, Procter & Gamble is investing in marketing during this period. 

Again, a direct quote from The Drum, “We need to work hard to ensure that we maintain mental and physical availability to the greatest extent possible, so that those consumers return to their beloved and trusted brands – which are ours – as they’re more fully available.”
“There’s a big upside here in terms of reminding consumers of the benefits that they’ve experienced with our brands and how they’ve [met] their family’s needs, which is why this is not a time to go off air.”

We, at Salesbeat, think P & G’s approach is more likely to succeed in the medium to long term. Once lockdowns ease and Covid passes, consumers will remember who have been with them through this crisis. As the saying goes, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’. 

What we are going through currently is a war after all, only this time with an invisible enemy.

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