Procter & Gamble is one of the world's top advertisers, spending $9.7 billion on advertising in 2013, that is more than 11% of its sales income, a proportion that has been gradually increasing over the last couple of decades. It is also one of the top US television advertisers, spending $1.7 billion in 2011.
Barron's magazine has ranked PG number 3 on the "World's Most Respected Companies List" and Fortune magazine ranked as the top "Global Most Admired Companies" 25 times out of 26 and most recently number 6 among the "Global Most Admired Companies".
PG was established in 1837. It sells its consumer products (around 300 brands including 50 leading brands) to 4.8 billion people in 180 countries and operates in 70 countries employing some 126,000 people. Its annual sales of cosmetics, health care, food, beverage, cleaning and paper products (including brands Olay, Crest, Duracell, Gillette, Pantene, Vicks and Tide) are over $84 billion.
Advertising and marketing is central to Procter & Gamble’s success. A 1996 report by Morgan Stanley claimed that Procter & Gamble was “the most savvy packaged-goods marketer in the world.”
In the 1920s Procter & Gamble boosted soap sales by over 25% with a series of newspaper advertisements which featured a family that used Ivory soap and a villain that used coloured and scented soaps. Following this success Procter & Gamble tried radio shows which also featured stories that aimed to sell soap. These stories became known as ‘soap operas’ or ‘washboard weepers.’ One series Ma Perkins advertised Oxydol soap and mentioned the brand 20-25 times in each 15 minute episode. It was aired five days a week and although 5000 people complained about it in the first week, it was a great commercial success. Soap sales doubled within a year and the show ran from 1932 to 1960.
When television arrived Procter & Gamble was quick to utilise the new medium for its advertising, sponsoring sports, games shows and fashion shows. In 1949 it formed P & G Productions to “produce or buy television programs and motion pictures.” By the mid 1950s thirteen different Procter & Gamble soapies were being broadcast on television.
In 1995 Procter & Gamble joined up with the Paramount Television Group to produce television shows and series targeted at young mothers who are potential consumers for their diapers, washing products, etc. A television sitcom resulting from the partnership screened on the CBS television network shortly afterwards.
P& G chief executive, Ed Artzt is reported to have urged advertisers at a meeting of the American Association of Advertising Agencies in 1994 to “take steps to ensure that advertising is a part of programming in a new media world.” The partnership with Paramount was also aimed at producing interactive TV, internet services and CD-Roms.
Today, P& G spends about one third of its US marketing budget on digital media.
According to Martin Lee and Norman Solomon in their book Unreliable Sources, PG once stated in a memo on broadcasting policy that “There will be no material that will give offense, either directly or indirectly to any commercial organization of any sort.”
Feminist and editor of Ms magazine, Gloria Steinem says that Procter & Gamble, has made it clear that “its products were not to be placed in any issue that included any material on gun control, abortion, the occult, cults, or the disparagement of religion.” Ms magazine decided to do without advertising because of such demands by advertisers.
Procter & Gamble, which spends well over a billion dollars a year on television advertising, much of it on day time television talk shows, has openly talked about its efforts to influence the content of these shows. Although they have good ratings, they have a potential to alienate some of Procter & Gamble’s more puritan customers. Procter & Gamble has described how it uses its financial muscle to change the content of those shows, “bankrolling the content they support and pulling dollars from topics they do not.” R.L Wehling, their Senior Vice President-advertising wrote:
We outlined what we consider to be appropriate content and we made it clear only those shows that live up to these standards will receive our advertising support... And over the past year, we declined to advertise on nearly a thousand individual episodes we felt didn’t measure up to our standards.
Procter & Gamble have withdrawn advertising, worth millions of dollars, from four of these shows after producers refused to change their content. Other talk shows, according to a Procter & Gamble spokeswoman, “were definitely willing to work with us.” The more recalcitrant talk shows had been given the chance to change their content “within a reasonable time frame.”
In 1986 lawyer Tom Riley, wrote a book The Price of a Life about his battle to win a lawsuit against Procter & Gamble for the death of a woman from toxic shock syndrome. The woman had died after using Rely tampons, manufactured and marketed by Procter & Gamble. On publication of his book, Riley
received offers to appear on talk shows, but all bookings were mysteriously cancelled at the last minute. As the country’s largest advertiser, PG wields tremendous clout with the media. An appearance by Riley might have cost a program untold dollars in PG commercials. Apparently no one was willing to take that risk.