In the world of corporate advertising, Procter & Gamble wrote the book on soft-soaping consumers.
The company that invented “soap operas” to market its products, is listed among the Fortune 500 “most admired” businesses, ranks as the fourth largest U.S.-based multinational corporation, spent 2.6 billion on advertising in 2007 and won Advertiser of the Year at the 2008 Cannes Advertising Festival knows more than a thing or two about selling an image.
Not surprising then that in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout, this American corporate behemoth would be first in line to exploit the situation for its own advantage while making itself look civic-minded and environmentally responsible at the same time.
The manufacturer of Dawn dishwashing liquid, Procter & Gamble was quick to announce after the Gulf oil spill that it was shipping 2000 bottles of the stuff to the Gulf of Mexico to assist the oil spill relief effort and specifically for use in the hand cleaning of animals on the coast who are being contaminated and killed as the mammoth slick makes landfall.
On its corporate website, P&G recently posted a notice of its environmentally-friendly gesture, stating:
“P&G has already expedited delivery of 1,000 bottles of Dawn from our Kansas City plant on April 29 and will provide additional supply to the Pensacola center. We are committed to supplying as much product as needed for this effort. In fact, Dawn has donated over 46,000 bottle of Dawn to the IBRRC [International Bird Rescue Research Center]…in the past 30 years.”
As far as that goes, P&G’s Dawn dishwashing liquid may arguably be the only bird-cleaning agent that is actually touted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2003, the FWS actually published a “best practices” report that recommended Dawn above other cleaning agents primarily because it could remove crude oil from bird feathers, was non-toxic and did not leave a residue. As Jim Edwards of BNet wrote recently, the P&G donation of Dawn to the Gulf oil spill has already reaped substantial media windfall: “There have so far been at least 209 media mentions of Dawn in relation to the oil spill — so the return on investment is already kicking in.” http://industry.bnet.com/advertising/10006677/how-bps-oil-spill-will-create-a-gusher-of-money-for-pgs-dishwashing-liquid/
A visit to the Canadian P&G product site features the corporation’s successful television commercial of an oil-stained duck being scrubbed clean with Dawn liquid and assures consumers that a portion of every purchase price of the product will go to finance such efforts in the Gulf. At the Dawn website–http://www.dawn-dish.com/en_CA/savingwildlife.do–you will also see images of an adorable little white seal pup and a baby penguin alongside the product, with a reassuring message alongside that “the Dawn brand is continuing its longstanding efforts to aid wildlife in need by partnering with organizations such as the International Bird Rescue Research Center” which in turn quotes and IBRRC official:
“For over 30 years we’ve partnered with Dawn in oiled wildlife rescue efforts because it removes tough grease while being gentle on animals’ delicate skin. In situations like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the IBRRC prepares immediately for the potential of an onslaught of oiled wildlife in need of help”.
The Dawn website goes on to explain that IBRRC “aquatic-bird rescue specialists…have been activated as of April 29th” headed by “oil spill expert”, Jay Holcomb, “who has been the Executive Director at IBRRC since 1988 and has responded to over 150 spills around the world, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill.”
This none too subtle ingratiation of P&G’s corporate branding (a concept the company is famously credited with innovating) with environmental disaster relief (IBRRC’s efforts in the Exxon Valdez oil spill are referenced) is more blatant: “We are committed to supplying as much product as needed for this effort. In fact, Dawn has donated over 46,000 bottle of Dawn to the IBRRC and MMC in the past 30 years.”
One of the devices used by P&G in this marketing link of its corporation with an environmentally conscious image is similar to the SERPENT scientific research program sponsored by BP and its Deepwater Horizon subcontractor, Transocean Ltd. At the Dawn website, P&G touts its “Dawn Saves Wildlife” program by encouraging consumers to equate their purchase of a P&G consumer product with support for “the ongoing efforts of the IBRRC and Marine Mammal Center through their purchase of a bottle of Dawn when they activate their donation online.”
P&G’s “Future Friendly” Campaign
In the same way, Procter & Gamble’s “Future Friendly” campaign is a testimony to the serious priority that this mega-consumer products producer assigns to walking, talking and doing everything like an environmentally responsible corporation. This initiative began at the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative conference and according to its own press release “blends brands such as Tide, Duracell and PUR to help advise consumers as to what they can do to conserve our natural resources.”
As P&G Group president for North America, Melanie Healey explains: “With Future Friendly, we’re trying to educate ‘mainstream’ consumers on how to conserve natural resources in their homes…[wh0 ]don’t want any perceived trade-offs in performance and price [but]….want to purchase the brands they already know and trust and understand how using these products, and adopting other simple behavior changes within their homes, can help them lower their impact on the environment.”
The campaign was inaugurated in March 2010 and according to P&G drafters, “is focusing on educating consumers on how to use Procter & Gamble products to save on water, gas and electricity [and]… will include social media promotion, as well as consumer involvement, the best way to ensure that people will pay attention to the campaign.”
The conflation of consumer brand loyalty to P&G products and supposed “opportunities to save environmental resources” will in Future Friendly’s grand design “help consumers get even more value out of the same products they know and trust; and, open new doors for innovative products and solutions that improve their lives.”
One may logically (if not skeptically) ponder how this so-called “environmental responsibility and consumer education platform” which is built upon “the power of trusted brands like Tide, Pampers, PUR, Duracell” can keep a straight face when it tries to fall in with real environmental campaigns of non-profit organizations such as Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, or even the Campaign for Real Ale in Britain.
As brilliant as this may be in marketing terms, to say nothing of mass communications and social psychology, P&G’s success in the “if it walks like a green company, and talks like a green corporation” approach to corporate self-promotion is transparent.
Take for example the “trusted” P&G brands such as Pampers® disposable diapers, Tide® laundry detergent, Bounty® paper towels, Charmin toilet paper (or “bathroom tissue”) ®, Downy®, Duracell® batteries, and even Olay® cosmetics.,
In 2009, Procter & Gamble was cited by the British Advertising Standards Agency for making “certain claims…in a print advertisement for its Olay Regenerist 30 second wrinkle filler [that] could not be substantiated”, specifically that: “the product ‘instantly reduces the appearance of wrinkles and lasts throughout the day’.”
Whatever P&G’s ad copywriters may suggest about Pampers, disposable diapers have long been criticized for containing trace amounts of dioxin, an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process which is listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a carcinogenic chemical and is banned in most countries except for the United States. Disposables also contain tributyl-tin (TBT), -a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals, as well as sodium polyacrylate, a super absorbent polymer (SAP), which becomes a gel-like substance when wet.
It is estimated by some environmental groups that over 27 billion disposable diapers are used annually in the United States and that less than one half of one percent of all waste from single-use diapers goes into the sewage system while more than 90 per cent end up in landfills.
Likewise, P&G’s popular Duracell brand disposable batteries are among the contributors to quickly diminishing landfill space. According to Jason Petrina at ArticleClick.com, “if over two billion batteries are tossed into landfills annually, the ‘trace’ metals multiply to an amount that is concerning.”
On the consumer paper products front, Greenpeace Canada’s Shopper’s Guide to Ancient Forest Friendly Tissue Products “lists over 140 tissue products for sale in Canada and tells you which ones contribute to the destruction of ancient forests and which do not.” Notably, all of the Procter and Gamble brands on the list–including Charmin, Puffs and Bounty (“The Quicker Picker-Upper”)–use zero percent recycled paper in their manufacturing process.
Still that doesn’t stop P&G from singing the praises of its Charmin toilet paper brands to the point of extolling consumers to buy it online with a dubious “green” enticement.: “Buy a MegaRoll of Charmin bathroom tissue (“It’s 4 Single Rolls in 1!”) and help save the planet. With an estimated $77-billion trade in consumer products, P&G argues that selling bigger rolls of TP results in less waste.
Alas, Procter & Gamble’s recalcitrance to using recycled paper or passing on the costs of making such products genuinely friendly to the environment to the consumer, for fear of compromising “brand loyalty” to P&G products, is a decidedly anti-green approach.
And no amount of Dawn or baby penguins or corporate media sudsing can remove that toxic stain.