By  on June 15, 2011

The definition of being in touch with the consumer has changed, particularly for a $27 billion beauty business like Procter & Gamble Co.’s that spans more than 100 countries.

Undeterred, Charlie Chappell, associate marketing director, digital and e-commerce for Beauty & Grooming at P&G, declared, “The possibilities now are becoming endless to develop a deeper connection.…The rules are all being rewritten.”

P&G has found that to make an impact with the consumer, digital efforts do best when tied to a cause or a purpose.

To illustrate the point, he detailed how Secret deodorant — a category that at first blush wouldn’t seem to elicit strong emotion — attracted more than one million fans to its Facebook page. When Secret launched its Facebook page in January 2010, the brand set out to tap into the strength conveyed by its former tag line, “Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman.”

The timing of the page’s launch also coincided with P&G’s sponsorship of the Winter Olympics. So, Secret began a campaign to add women’s ski jumping as an official sport for the 2014 Winter Olympics. It began with a slick video that at the end declared, “Let’s not bridge the gap. Let’s jump over it.”

The effort piqued women’s interests and attracted fans to the page. But the biggest surge of Secret’s Facebook fans came when the brand aligned itself with a campaign to end bullying. “In 2010, the topic of cyber bullying became very relevant,” said Chappell. The social issue lead Secret to develop a program called Mean Stinks to encourage women to offer kind words to the victim when they see bullying happening. As part of the effort, the Secret team sent a box of T-shirts — with slogans like “Petty Isn’t Pretty” — to a student who started a Stop Bullying Now group at her school. Consumers soon began posting videos in support of the cause, with some apologizing for not stepping in to stop bullying in the past.

“The spike in new fans blew away everyone’s expectations,” said Chappell. It was taking the “engagement activity up and up,” he added, noting that the brand has gained share for the last five years. “We believe digital played a major part.”

P&G’s most visible — and talked about — digital effort burst into consumers’ consciousness with a TV spot for Old Spice featuring the shirtless, smooth-talking spokesman Isaiah Mustafa just prior to the Super Bowl. The video instantly went viral. The idea for the ad, said Chappell, started with an objective: “To convince women to stop buying ladies-scented body wash for their men.” After all, at the time Old Spice was facing a big threat: Unilever was gearing up to launch Dove Men+Care, complete with a splashy Super Bowl ad. “It’s a brilliant idea because women buy 50 percent of men’s [grooming] products,” he acknowledged. Old Spice had to swing back.

Referring to the first TV spot — that ends with, “Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady” — Chappell said, “This started with a great idea brilliantly executed in a traditional format: a 30-second commercial.”

To date, that particular spot has generated 32 million views on YouTube, he said. The campaign has also inspired parodies as viewers posted their own humorous spin on the ads. “[Old Spice] marketers had to give away some of their control to the consumer,” he said. As a result of the “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign, sales skyrocketed. At the campaign’s peak in June 2010, Old Spice’s sales were double what they were the previous year.

Chappell said of digital marketing, “It still starts from a need,” and “you have to take risks.”

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