Thank P&G’s McElroy for TV Ad Model

Aug 21, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Adam Armbruster

Special to TelevisionWeek

There I was at a television industry dinner table, embroiled in yet another heated debate about effective TV advertising. This time, the topic was television viewer engagement. There was much discussion about how to engage a consumer using specific television programming, and the big question seemed to be “What TV programs are better than others at engaging a consumer?”

I guess what these folks really want to figure out is whether anyone is really paying attention to their TV commercials. Later, as I reflected on this discussion, I flashed back to the person who created the original consumer engagement rulebook. What would he think of all this hullabaloo? He never had to wonder about engagement or measurability because his TV ads were designed to be measured.

The year was 1931. Neil McElroy sat down in his office at Procter & Gamble and drafted a memo to the CEO on a new brand management idea. From now on, separate teams of managers would be accountable for each P&G brand.

They would make their own decisions about advertising-no more advertising committees and red tape.

This was revolutionary.

Clearly, McElroy was forward-thinking about how to get maximum return on investment results for each consumer product. He was also forward-thinking about television advertising.

Consider that just five months after the introduction of broadcast television in the U.S., McElroy aired television’s original commercial (for Ivory soap) during the first televised major league baseball game in 1937.

It’s true. Procter & Gamble created the modern effective television commercial and its model is still the standard for maximum effectiveness. What could possibly be superior to a television advertising model that has been on the air for nearly 70 years in front of 98 percent of Americans each week?

In effect, McElroy may have bypassed viewer engagement concerns and moved forward to design powerful, sales-generating television campaigns. Product sales results would matter more than any other factor in the campaign.

It’s quite possible that he knew consumers “engage” with a commercial message only when they are “in the market” for that product. (It’s kind of like why you seem to notice fast-food TV commercials only when you’re hungry!)

So clearly we can thank Procter & Gamble for designing the original measurable television commercial. And despite the influx of new media and trendy television marketing gimmicks, Procter & Gamble is still sold on the 30-second television commercial. P&G is an international leader and continues to invest heavily on brand-building :30s in emerging markets.

Case in point: P&G spends millions on its brands in the newest Chinese television programs. In fact, P&G is currently sponsoring the No. 1 television talent show in China, “Super Girl” (can’t you just imagine engagement levels of this program for teenage girl consumer brands?).

You have to remember that P&G is fundamentally a technology company, so it is quite natural for them to take a scientific view of everything, including advertising. And we know that scientists view a whole as made up of individual parts. Perfect the parts and you’ll perfect the whole.

So with great gratitude to Neil McElroy, I’d like to now list the most important proven parts of an effective and measurable television commercial:

  • Logo brand identification: Who are you? How can I remember your product?

  • Merchandise impression: What is it? How does it work? What does it do?

  • Value statement: How much does it cost?

  • Product sub-brand: What’s the one memorable advantage of your brand?

  • Sense of urgency: How soon must I act and why?

  • Consumer locator: This could be a store, a phone number or, today, a Web site.

    A television commercial that includes these six key elements has a very good chance of success, since it includes all the motivators that help inspire consumers to consider buying the product. However, with just one of these key elements missing from a television script, a television commercial instantly becomes 16 percent less effective.

    (Don’t take my word for it. Watch a few television commercials tonight and you will notice that some TV ads will lack two or more of the crucial “P&G” elements. It’s not hard to surmise that the clients running these flawed television messages may also be the same folks trying to figure out how to engage their customers.)

    It also goes without saying that for an overall effective marketing plan there also needs to be equal importance given to the media plan in terms of the targeted demographic, the appropriate reach and frequency, the airing of the messages during the product-buying window and careful selection of television programming appealing to this type of consumer. Also, a competitive analysis must be completed to ensure that the appropriate decisions are made in relation to the clients’ top competitive offerings. This process can greatly increase the campaign’s effectiveness since it itself creates the opportunity to develop “sub-brand” tactics.

    So now that we understand the power of the P&G television marketing model, consider this example of Procter & Gamble’s brand of television strategy at work.

    If you are more than 40 years old, you’ll remember the original Bounty paper towel TV ads. There was Rosie the waitress at a diner counter cleaning up after a customer while demonstrating to him Bounty’s incredible absorption rate and superior strength. The commercial ends with Rosie telling the diner that his wife should buy Bounty brand paper towels. She refers to Bounty as the “Quicker Picker-Upper.”

    I know, I know; you’re thinking this idea is charming, but not realistic in today’s modern world. To challenge this thought we ask you to log on to Quickerpickerupper.com, Bounty’s Web site, and view the current Bounty paper towel TV commercial airing on network television.

    I promise you the concept will look very similar. Rosie working in the diner has been replaced by a modern Mom at home, but the same product comparison shots, and even much of the script, is identical.

    Nostalgic? Sure. But does this concept still work? Well, consider that in a supermarket crowded with paper towel brands, Bounty still holds a whopping 39 percent market share of United States sales. That is simply incredible.

    This begs a question. Are we worrying too much about consumer engagement levels based on television programming? Could we generate higher campaign measurability instead by focusing on consumers who are “open to buy” a specific product? Is it possible that the television creative message is the one true key to successful engagement?

    Perhaps the real authority on engagement is from the man who blazed the trail to successfully tell us a complicated consumer brand story in 30 seconds or less.

    Thanks, Neil McElroy, for the television marketing model we still use today. Many of us owe our careers to you, the father of the original-and still “engaging”-television commercial.

    Adam Armbruster is a partner in the retail and broadcasting consulting firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster and Company located in Red Bank, N.J., and can be reached at adam_@esacompany.com.