Monday, October 19, 2009

P&G moves soap opera genre online

Corporate giant tries to woo today's new audiences

By David Holthaus • • October 4, 2009

Now that "The Guiding Light" is a part of soap opera history, the newest stars of a Procter & Gamble drama are not Reva and Josh of GL's fictional Springfield, but Suzie and Steve Barston of real-life Los Angeles.

The Barstons are the stars of a 12-part series called "A Parent is Born," found not on television, but on the newest medium of choice for the world's largest advertiser, the Internet.

The Webisode is the latest example of how P&G, the inventor of the daytime drama, has moved beyond the soap opera and into the digital world, but with the same purpose it had when it launched the "Ma Perkins" radio serial in 1933: to create an interested audience it can use to build loyalty to its brands.

With the demise of "The Guiding Light," which ran on radio and then on TV for 72 years, P&G owns only one soap, "As the World Turns." The company that once produced more than 20 of the daytime television staples has turned its entertainment attention squarely to the Internet, practically abandoning the daytime TV genre it invented.
"We literally moved from radio to TV, and now we're in the digital world," said Pat Gentile, who heads P&G Productions, the Cincinnati-based unit that oversees P&G's entertainment properties. "We're putting our focus on creating digital content."

Just as it did with the soaps, P&G is creating places where it can gather a big audience, with the goal of building goodwill toward brands such as Pampers diapers, Iams dog food, Febreze fabric freshener and Dawn dish soap.
Case in point is "A Parent is Born," which follows the real-life Barstons from early pregnancy through the birth of their first child in a series of four- to five-minute videos available on the Web. The series is sponsored by P&G's Pampers brand and is found on the Pampers Web site. A 30-minute version aired on DirecTV in late August, and P&G plans to syndicate the series in other online venues.
"A Parent is Born" doesn't directly sell Pampers but helps shape how consumers feel about the brand, building what Gentile and other marketers call "brand equity." Following the young couple as they learn the baby's gender, decorate the child's room and talk about their hopes for their budding family can build an emotional connection to the brand that is valuable for creating long-time customers.

For Pampers, a $9 billion P&G brand, the show helps position it as a product concerned not only about keeping babies dry, but about the well-being of families, a key marketing message in the company's plans to double Pampers sales over the next several years.

A just-launched Web site,, like the soaps, doesn't carry only P&G advertising, but is meant to be a destination site that brings a like-minded audience together. Dinnertool is a meal-planning site that generates recipes from a given list of ingredients, giving Moms a place to go when they need ideas for mealtime. "It fits nicely with our brands," Gentile said, especially after-dinner cleaning products such as Joy, Dawn and Cascade.

Its other destination site is, designed for dog, cat and bird lovers. More than a million of them call up the site each month, Gentile said.

Like the soap operas that preceded them, the Web sites don't simply pitch P&G products, but are meant to be sites that people return to over and over again, creating an interested audience that may be more receptive to the P&G message.

"People believe you more," Gentile said. "They don't feel like you're trying to shove something down their throats."
Providing good information is the key to creating a loyal audience, said Chris Allen, a University of Cincinnati marketing professor. "It's about providing content that attracts specific communities of users," he said. "It's the future of marketing."

The Web sites enjoy a major marketing advantage over television: e-mail. Visitors to the sites are asked to register, enabling P&G to capture potentially millions of e-mail addresses that it can use for surveys, for regular e-mail newsletters or to tout new products.

"A big part of the whole agenda is building that marketing database," Allen said.

The decline of the soaps as a marketing technique is due partly to its limited flexibility as a one-way medium; we can only watch, not interact. But it's also due to their aging audiences, those that are outside the marketer's ideal demographic.