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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press In this still image from a spot provided by Procter & Gamble, a mother talks to her daughter about racial bias. The ad is part of a shift by some corporations by treading into territory that could be polarizing.

Saturday, August 12, 2017 1:00 am

P&G takes calculated risk with 'Talk' ad

RUSSELL CONTRERAS and COREY WILLIAMS | Associated Press

It's a simple message: Beware of racism in the United States.

But Procter & Gamble took a calculated risk with its ad that features black mothers speaking to children about racial bias through the decades. The company says it knew there might be a backlash – and the ad has been criticized as being anti-police or anti-white. But it says it felt after hearing from consumers that the ad would be worth it.

“The Talk,” which makes no mention of any P&G product, has been the talk of social media.

The ad is part of a shift by some corporations that are making emotional appeals to consumers by treading into territory that could be polarizing. But experts say there are likely to be more of these ads, as companies seek younger customers who respond to them.

“Brands just can't push their messages out there,” said Luis Garcia, president and lead strategist of MarketVision, a San Antonio marketing firm. “They have to create meaningful ways that are going to engage people.”

Consumers have so many choices among so many brands, Garcia said, that people remember only what matters to them.

In the P&G video released online last month, a mom in the 1950s tells her daughter she is not just “pretty for a black girl,” as someone told the girl, but “beautiful, period.” And a mom in the 1960s tells her son he may hear an epithet, but not to let it hurt him. Another mom, this time in the 1990s, reminds her son to take his identification with him as he sets off for practice.

None of the company's products are shown. Instead, after clips of mothers giving children “the talk,” the video invites people to discuss it online with the hashtag #TalkAboutBias.

The ad is scheduled to begin airing on national TV next week.

Damon Jones, a spokesman for Procter & Gamble, said not including products in “The Talk” was a conscious decision because the company wanted viewers to focus on its message.

“There's a time for product placement,” Jones said. “There's a time to do something broader.”

Jones said the company believed now was the time to tackle racial bias after hearing feedback from consumers. He said “The Talk” ad seemed like an evolution from other socially conscious Procter & Gamble efforts, and cited its #LikeAGirl campaign that criticized emojis for being “stereotypical” and “limiting” toward women.

Procter & Gamble isn't the first company to try to tackle difficult topics.

The P&G ad has drawn positive and negative reactions.

Jennifer Johnson of Detroit said the conversations portrayed in the ads are rooted in real life. She says she's had similar talks with her now-adult daughter over the years.

Victor Taylor, a black 63-year-old retiree in Bakersfield, California, called the ad “reality.” Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin said it amounted to “identity-politics pandering” and alienated law enforcement.

“P&G should stand for quality consumer goods, not empty Protest & Grumble that divides more than it unites,” Malkin wrote.