sandberg-on-pantene-ad

When it comes to business, the talented male professional is perceived as “boss” while the talented woman professional in the same situation is “bossy.” This is the message of P&G’s new commercial for Pantene that first played in the Philippines a few months ago.

As a fan of Sheryl Sandberg, and her book, Lean In, I identify with the marketing voice given to the differences in perception and language of women professionals vs. men in the business world.  As a member of the Lean In on-line community, I am actively engaged in promoting its messages, not just by example, but by initiating dialogue among friends and co-workers.

However, as a cause marketing tactic for Pantene, I am less of a fan.

First, is the ad actually cause marketing? Cause marketing generally involves the cooperative efforts of a for profit business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit, and is sometimes used more broadly to refer to any type of marketing effort for social and other charitable causes.

It comes in all shapes and colors but generally there should be a logical, and even existential, connection between the cause and the company’s product.  Too often it is not more than an emotional connection of the lead executive’s (most often the founder’s) beliefs and his/her company’s product.

A few examples:

PatagoniaStrong Existential Connection:  Patagonia’s long time association with investing in and advocating for environmental causes and its promotion of sportswear for hiking and exploring.

Weak Existential Connection:  Toms, a shoe company that has adopted a one for one business model where for every pair of shoes they sell, a pair of shoes will go to a child in need.  More of a gimmick than addressing the larger issues at play.

Strong Existential Connection:  Unilever’s push for food and energy sustainability by “selling healthy, necessary goods and services that satisfy the world’s rapidly growing middle class and improve the lives of the poor” as a long-term strategy to develop new markets.

Weak Existential Connection:  Bono’s (Red) campaign where participating companies donate up to 50% of the profits they make from selling specialized “red” products to HIV/Aids causes.

I question the logical, let alone the existential, connection between shampoo and equal opportunity for women professionals, which is being invoked by the Pantene campaign. To me it feels like something advertisers came up with in a well-appointed conference room on Madison Avenue.

Nevertheless, if we concede that Pantene’s campaign is cause marketing, then I question whether it is effective. Does its message really influence the buying patterns of the target demographic?

P&G launched the ad after conducting a gender-bias survey in the Philippines to “drive the message that Pantene understands a woman’s fears and insecurities and is her partner to drive her true potential,” according to a recent article in Ad Age. The article reports that President-Global Beauty Deb Henretta said in a statement: “Pantene and P&G brands reach billions of women around the world, and we want to use this scale and influence to be an agent of change.”

Personally, what I buy and what I believe in are two different things.

I shop for healthy local food because it tastes amazing, not because of the politics of the local food movement.

I spend hours and hours working on education policy through my local community college board chairmanship because I want to help provide quality educational opportunities to my community.  No marketing campaign will change this level of effort.

I buy shampoo that gets chlorine out of my hair.

I’m with you all the way Sheryl, but sorry, Pantene, this won’t make me think twice at the grocery store.

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