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P&G, Get Out of My Media!

dfarsettas Icon Posted by Diane Farsetta

June 22nd, 2006

Lately I’ve been thinking that the Matt Groening cartoon Futurama may be eerily accurate with regard to marketing practices.

The cartoon is set in the 31st century, but a main character, Fry, is a time refugee from the 1990s. In one episode, Fry becomes upset after his dreams are infiltrated by advertisements. Leela, the starship captain, can’t understand why he’s distressed. “Didn’t you have ads in the 20th century?” she asks.

“Well, sure,” he replies, “but not in our dreams. Only on TV and radio … and in magazines … and movies, and at ballgames, and on buses, and milk cartons, and T-shirts, and bananas, and written in the sky. But not in dreams, no sirree.”

According to last week’s New York Times, there’s at least one more item that should be added to Fry’s list: books targeted to teen girls.

On June 12, Motoko Rich reported on an upcoming “young adult novel” whose publisher “has signed an unusual marketing partnership” with Cover Girl. The book, titled, “Cathy’s Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233,” follows the character Cathy as she tries “to learn why her boyfriend, Victor, has dumped her.” Maybe because she wasn’t wearing enough makeup?

Authors Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart, both men with marketing backgrounds, insist that their book has not been compromised by the inserted mentions of specific Cover Girl lipstick and eyeliner brands. “We had already put in these drawings where Cathy was giving makeup tips,” explained Weisman. Stewart added that they rejected some ideas, such as having Cathy endorse Tampax tampons (which are made by Cover Girl’s corporate parent, Procter & Gamble).

Another unusual aspect of the arrangement is that neither the authors nor the book publisher is being paid for the product mentions. Instead, Procter & Gamble will promote the book on its website Beinggirl.com, which the New York Times described as featuring “games, advice on handling puberty and, yes, makeup tips.”

My impression of the Beinggirl.com website is that it is rather menstrual-centric. Logos for Tampax and Always appear on every page. Of the eight main website sections (The Scoop, Your Period, Ask Iris, Express Yourself, Fun Stuff, The Goods, bgAdvisor and Free Stuff), the content of five prominently discusses menstruation and related products — namely, Tampax tampons and Always pads. Of course, getting your period is a major event for adolescent girls. But the P&G website makes it seem like all the cool teen girls are talking about menstruation all the time.

As an advocate for transparency, I’m concerned that the “About Beinggirl” page — the link to which is very small and tucked away in the bottom corner of the site — does not mention Procter & Gamble anywhere. Instead, it says the site is “for girls, by girls!” The website, it claims, is a place where teen girls “can come together to learn, share, communicate with each other and have loads of fun with games, quizzes, polls and lots more.” Undoubtedly, the quiz and poll results are of great interest to P&G marketers.

The book deal and website aren’t that surprising, given P&G’s history of pushing the marketing envelope. Since 2001, P&G has had a word-of-mouth marketing program that recruits teens to promote products to their friends. As of a few months ago, 225,000 teens had signed up. In 2005, P&G launched a similar word-of-mouth or “buzz” marketing program for “the most influential group of shoppers in America: moms,” according to BusinessWeek.

Welcome to the brave new media world, where 30-second ads are so 20th century (sorry, Fry). Savvy marketers know that brand loyalty relies on establishing a personal and emotional connection with individuals. So our media — even books, which previously provided safe harbor for the ad-weary — are becoming littered with barely-disclosed product placements. Interactive websites, funny videos and intriguing text messages could be what they seem — or they could be marketing ploys mimicking spontaneous conversations among target audiences.

According to a recent survey of marketing executives by the public relations firm Manning Selvage & Lee and the trade publication PR Week, the unprecedented media saturation of the sell is here to stay. Nearly 49 percent of respondents admitted to paying for product placement in broadcast or editorial material. And “half of those who haven’t paid for placement said they would if the opportunity arose,” reported Advertising Age.

I should note that 43 percent of those “who said they wouldn’t consider paying for editorial or broadcast placements … said they didn’t feel it was ethical.” Which translates into a whopping 29 of the 266 marketing execs surveyed, if my math is correct.

Hey, sometimes it’s important to accentuate the positive, to dream of a less-commercialized media landscape — as long as the dreams are advertising-free.

One Response to “P&G, Get Out of My Media!”

  1. a
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