P&G to Launch Ad Campaign Aimed at Black Women

Last Updated Aug 27, 2007 3:39 PM EDT

P&G to Launch Ad Campaign Aimed at Black WomenUnilever generated massive buzz with its Dove "Campaign for Real Beauty." You couldn't go anywhere for a couple of years without seeing those curvaceous, "real" women looking pleased to be in their underwear. Though you also couldn't avoid hearing critics complain that Unilever sells many other products in traditional ways less likely to have a positive impact on the average woman's self-esteem.

Now, according to Advertising Age, Unilever rival Proctor & Gamble is ready to wade into similarly choppy waters with a campaign entitled "My Black is Beautiful."

The campaign's goal is to make all black girls and women feel that way regardless of skin tone or origin and, of course, forge a closer relationship between P&G brands and their black consumers in the process.
As Ad Age notes, the formula for both campaigns is roughly the same: "Find a group that feels slighted by popular culture, then position your brand(s) squarely on their side." The new campaign is also based on research into untapped market potential:
P&G research found that 71% of black women feel they're portrayed worse than other women in media and advertising. Despite that, they spend on average three times more than the general market on beauty products. The company's idea is, in part, to give black women the attention warranted by that spending
But, as Unilever discovered, if you claim to have ethical motivations mixed with commercial ones -- a combination that many will find instantly suspicious -- you've significantly raised the bar of expectation. Any whiff of hypocrisy (those Dove girls were flogging an anti-cellulite cream after all) and people may find the campaign offensive.

P&G has some credibility as one of the first companies to pull ads from Don Imus' show after his infamous racist remarks. Ad Age also reports that "P&G's Always and Tampax have established a $50,000 grant, and the company is in talks with women's organizations to develop a series of community discussions on the issue, with booklets likely to be distributed by Essence." It's clear they are aware of the danger of looking less than sincere and are working to mitigate it.

Still there are other possible pitfalls. The campaign will attempt to appeal to Hispanic women who are also black and may run into trouble on that front. In an accompanying piece on the controversies swirling around diversity in advertising, Ad Age points out:

Even broaching the subject [of diversity] puts one at risk of offending any number of people for any number of reasons. Diversity is not multiculturalism is not race... if one has a discussion relying on the old black-and-white dichotomy of the American cultural divide, the Hispanic market will point out that it's the biggest -- and biggest-spending -- minority group (and not a race, mind you).
The opinion piece concludes that, despite these dangers, it is necessary for marketers to wade in and address the fundamental diversity of their customers, if for no other reason than that the resulting discussion is likely to be educational to all involved. They have a point but, of course, all that chatter probably won't hurt the company's public profile either.

(Image of Dove advertisement by ecentor, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.