Q&A: P&G managing director Irwin Lee

As P&G partners with Asda to drive awareness of its Clean Drinking Water Programme, Marketing Week spoke to the FMCG firm’s UK managing director Irwin Lee about the challenges brands face marketing sustainability messages.

PG Asda

Marketing Week (MW): How did you choose Asda to partner with on this initiative?

Irwin Lee (IL): As part of the joint relationship with Asda we brainstormed what particular ideas could be exciting for us to do together. Each of us is a big operation but together we can create a big impact in the UK and potentially have a global impact.
We’re trying this out in the UK and we think it has the potential for global roll out as Asda is part of the global Walmart business and we are global. We haven’t yet made a decision to make it global but all eyes are on us.

The bigger context is that we want to be a preferred partner with our retailers and try to bring more excitement into in-store events, this is just one example of that. We are trying to make sure that we have campaigns that work for all our retailers.

MW: How is it going to manifest itself in marketing and how does the partnership help bring the programme to more people?

IL: There’s a lot of Asda in-store activity and a lot of joint co-branded marketing, media and PR exploitations. Both teams sent people to Africa to try to see exactly how these drinking water packets help save lives. We have a commitment to save 200 million days of illness and save one life every hour until 2020. We’re delighted that Asda has signed on as a partner for this.

Typically UK grocers have a very formulaic approach to in-store promotions – generally it’s focused on price messages. What we’ve tried to do is bring a lot more excitement and show that shoppers can contribute to saving lives.

What you should expect to see in store is a lot of branding for the campaign and a lot about safe drinking water. We tried to find a very simple mechanic: make one purchase and it equals one packet [of water purifier] so a shopper will contribute to saving lives through each purchase. It offers a bit more purpose or meaning rather than just being about pricing. There’s a lot of branding materials and in-store to communicate this in a way it hasn’t been before.

It’s a multi-brand campaign so it brings our scale into play. By lending the strength of our brands to the strength of Asda it will cascade up to serve a higher purpose and help people across the world.

PG Asda

MW: Is this campaign anther part of P&G’s ongoing efforts to get more resonance between consumers and the corporate brand?

IL: Yes it is, our Olympics Thank You Mom activity was the first P&G branded campaign in the UK. In the past we’ve built one brand at a time over the last 80 years. Now we think it’s right that people know the company behind the brand and we’re looking at every opportunity where we can link our individual brands to the corporate brand. This will become another platform where we can talk about the good things P&G does as a corporate entity and link it to the everyday brands we have that are favourites of UK households.

MW: There is still a lot of cynicism in the UK and globally about corporate CSR activities. How are you hoping to communicate this initiative so it is not seen as a stunt that doesn’t mean anything but actually gets the right message across?

IL: It’s an issue of attitude, we’re not bothered by that cynicism … we are proud of the things we do as a company. For us it’s not a stunt it’s about long term sustainability. Our purpose is really to improve consumers’ lives now and for generations to come.

For us to sustain that for many generations we have to be true to our principles. The only thing we can do is stay focused on our messages and stay focused on our purpose. We are in everyday household and personal products and our brands do help people in their everyday tasks, but as a company we should have a positive impact in all the communities we operate. As a global player we have to try to tell our story across different media platforms.

We hope that by extending these stories through our retail partners, PR, social and digital, people will begin to see that what we’re trying to do is improve consumers’ lives in as many places as possible.

PG Asda

MW: P&G’s Olympic campaign was a very different approach to marketing than previosuly adopted, what have the P&G marketing teams learned from that experience that has been applied to this activity?

IL: The first thing we learned from the Olympics was the power of the big idea and the insight. With Olympics it was a sporting event but we found our own unique conversation space and worked on focusing on thanking mums and friends and families behind athletes and linking that to our brands.

With this event, it’s the power of what Asda and P&G can do when we join forces and what impact clean drinking water. When you can capture the power of that idea it opens up a lot of executions.

The other thing we’ve learned is that if we build on the idea, and our activities surround things that matter the most they will have the most impact. We learned that things are very impactful when you do it in-store rather than just in one TV ad.

MW: You’ve talked about what the scale of P&G and Asda can bring, so will there be more examples of P&G working with other organisations to achieve sustainability goals.

IL: That’s absolutely right. In the past decade we have practiced something called ‘connect and develop’ which started in the R&D world but we know we have to work more with other organisations. We do not believe we have a monopoly or absolute knowledge or excellence. There’s a lot of good organisations out there to work with. It can be retail parters like here with Asda, or others we work with Pampers and UNICEF, Fairy with make a Wish Foundation, and recently Gillette with Movember. There’s a lot of opportunities to be tapped by working better together with other organisations.

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