Values: Leaders Need to Know, Live, and Communicate Them

Daughter: “Mom, have you seen my green top anywhere?”
Mother: “Honey, you know that isn’t exactly my style.” Smiles thinly.
As the daughter runs off, mother dashes upstairs to rifle through her laundry basket, retrieve the stained top (to flashbacks of her out on the town with friends while wearing it) and quickly launders it with Tide’s newest product.
Pan to the daughter now wearing the top “hey mom, I found it; must’ve been hiding somewhere in my closet!” Mother smiles knowingly.
Some may think I am moralizing in criticizing this commercial, but I suggest there’s more going on here than meets the eye, especially the eye of Proctor & Gamble. This is surprising given the excellent job P&G has done for over 100 years to protect and manage it’s brand.
I imagine the ad agency was just trying to be cute: aging mother borrows daughter’s cool blouse to go out and have fun again as a youngster with her friends. This is completely innocuous. All of us middle-agers relate to the urge to do that. I’m wearing my son’s old Notre Dame fleece as I write this.
What P&G overlooked is the message that mother’s subtle lie sends to viewers.
First of all, don’t they realize that for a mother to be afraid or reluctant to tell her daughter the truth reflects an unhealthy family relationship? Quite the contrary, they try to portray this as cute and acceptable. Parents who lie to their children (directly or indirectly) quickly lose their children’s respect. Children played for fools quickly demonstrate to parents they’re anything but fools. This ad portrays as ‘normal’ exactly the dynamic that every family should work hard to avoid: deception and silence.
Second, from a marketing perspective, it is risky and dangerous. P&G has been a leader in (among other things) learning how to tap into and leverage the power of the internet and social media to build relationships that strengthen long-term buying. What I’m sure they quickly learned is that this new savvy audience cannot be easily zoomed; that they, more than ever before, demand transparency, authenticity and integrity, not just in products and services, but also in the companies that sell them. If P&G sanctions an ad celebrating family deception, why should the audience believe P&G doesn’t march to that same drummer? What ‘little white lies’ about P&G are they concealing?
Am I overreacting? Perhaps a tad. After all, it IS only a soap commercial. But the point is that for the pubic to understand and decide on a company’s values, (that is, should I buy from these guys?), that company must first clearly know what their values are, must walk that same talk, and must then ensure that every message sent out from their domain reinforces those values. Consider Hyundai’s ‘green’ car ads as perfectly aligned value statements.
Values, actions and messaging must be tightly aligned, especially among today’s buying public, where online conversations make or break product success. Judgments are swift, harsh, and viral.
Over the centuries (imagine that!) P&G has done a stellar job of crafting their solid image, so I think this ad is simply an oversight. That said, it is enough to make me decide not to buy that product, as the ad irritates me every time I see it. And lucky for them, my blog has yet to build a huge audience.
Values matter: know them, live them, and consistently communicate them.

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