The Return of the infomercial, the Procter & Gamble Story – Deighton
The brashness of the badly scripted 1990s infomercial eventually led the majority of advertisers to consign the medium to the realm of parody. But Procter & Gamble has started to shift ad spend into reviving the video for the modern age, as part of its shift towards superiority marketing.
Consumers’ tendency to Google or YouTube how to carry out household chores – such as getting a stain out of a shirt – was partly what drove P&G towards the infomercial once again. Research carried out by the conglomerate and its agencies showed that a lot of people didn’t know how to use its products in the right way, and were subsequently missing out on their benefits.
“You would think that [people] would know how to use a laundry detergent, a cleaning product, a toothbrush etc … but many, many, people, especially Gen Z and millennials, who are using things for the first time, don’t,” explained chief brand officer Marc Pritchard.
“These infomercials literally tell you: here’s the problem we know you’re having, here’s how to use a product to get the best benefit, here’s why the product is better and therefore here’s why you should buy it. It’s a wall-to-wall demo, but incredibly effective.”
On the smaller wedge of the media budget, Pritchard is using infomercials to increase brand awareness of P&G’s smaller acqusitions, such as Bevel, and the 180 startup businesses currently in incubation at the company. All begin life as brands run by two- or three-person teams, which are handed a small performance marketing budget to prove the viability of the business model.
Infomercials have been proving valuable in cases where a brand new innovation in startup mode requires a lot of usage and benefit explanation: “it’s new, you’ve never seen this before, so here’s exactly how to use it”, Pritchard summarized.
But the format is being used by some of its biggest brands, too. The CPG giant recently teamed up with the American product promo platform Brand Power to show how its Mr Clean line can be used around the home, for instance.
Created by Buchanan Advertising, which continues to work with P&G brands despite relinquishing Mr Clean infomercials to Publicis, the spot also compares the brand’s Magic Eraser to a ‘leading all-purpose bleach spray’ to convey its benefits as explicitly as possible.
The Mr Clean work may be an archetype of the infomercial, however P&G is also creatively pushing the definition of the media with other brands, particularly for markets outside of the US, which are not as receptive to the scripted, faultless product demo.
Swiffer and Febreeze have both put out advertising content that demonstrates the best ways to us their products, without appearing as infomercials on the surface.
Meanwhile, Olay Regenerist recently produced a video that pitted its Micro-Sculpting cream against 131 products from 12 countries to prove it was the best choice for consumers. But rather than utilize patent split-screen, side-by-side demos, the message was conveyed gently by a skincare model spokesperson and illustration.
This is the crux of P&G’s move back towards infomercials: they make space to explain how one product is better than another. Such superiority marketing is something Pritchard is now pushing his brands and agencies for.
In fact, at the ANA Masters of Marketing conference, he revealed it is now where most of P&G’s media is spent. He’s now “doubling down” on finding creative ways to prove the company’s products are better than those of its rivals.
For Matt Naeger, chief strategy officer at Merkle, this tactic represents a significant shift in strategy for P&G, which previously elevated the value of its brand over the value of its products.
“Over the last 20 years we have seen advertising move to this space where people want splashy things that can distract a consumer and break through the clutter,” he said. “That splashy creative approach has pulled brands away from talking specifically about their product and why you should care about it.
“This move is one where I see P&G moving from brand concept to brand value, and the infomercial concept is really an iteration of how their brand is becoming more focused on value than on image.”
If Pritchard continues to drive the infomercial format forward, P&G could become one of the first multinational advertisers to really scale the benefits of the infomercial in the digital world.
Ava Seavey, executive producer and creative director at brand response agency Avalanche, noted that the catch-all term ‘infomercial’ spans content that runs from 30 seconds to 30 minutes, lives on almost any video platform and comprises “every shooting style imaginable”.
Additionally, she said, the media efficiency of buying infomercial airtime as remnant media (which can get bumped, but is bought from a reduced rate card) “cannot be overstated”. This is a factor someone like Pritchard, a vocal campaigner for less wastage in the industry, will find hard to ignore.
“An infomercial can use the URL as the call to action for specific offers rather than an 800 number, and short videos can drive customers to a splash page where a long form video can be viewed to close the sale,” Seavy explained. “Video ads on Facebook, for example, can drive viewers to Amazon, a URL, or anyplace else.
“Additionally, streaming services and over-the-top providers … are serving up pieces of the infomercial pie. Performance marketers are advertising on places like Hulu among others. And it was recently cited by an industry measuring company, DRMetrix, that nearly 50% of the revenue from cable came from performance marketing media. That is an astounding number.”