‘I suppressed my Mexican heritage for fear of being labeled,’ says P&G chief marketer

Marc Pritchard, the chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble at the Cannes Lions festival in June 2017
Christian Alminana | Getty Images

The chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble has said he worried about racial bias at work and previously downplayed the fact that he is half-Mexican.

Speaking at a conference in Miami, Florida, last week, P&G's most senior marketer Marc Pritchard explained that his father was Mexican-American, but was adopted by a man with an English name.

"Growing up, I had the ability to move between white and Latino cultures. But when entering the workforce, I suppressed my Mexican heritage, for fear of being labeled, because I had heard these denigrating terms used many times in my life," he said at the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) 2017 multicultural marketing and diversity conference.

Procter & Gamble's Marc Pritchard speaking at the Olympic Pride event in Washington, DC, in September 2016
Paul Morigi | Getty Images

"I came to grips with my own biases to change my attitudes and behavior. I recognized the privilege of being viewed as white, with a name like Pritchard, and decided to share my personal story and open up a dialogue within our company," he said in a transcript of his speech seen by CNBC.

Prejudice in society

Pritchard, who has worked at P&G since 1982, said that people of black, Asian and Latino ethnicity, as well as people of mixed race, are the fastest-growing segment of the population in the U.S., and will soon become the majority.

"They're growing in economic and political power, with ever-expanding purchasing power. On the other hand, the forces of prejudice and bigotry are openly coming to the surface again, creating divisiveness and conflict, and threatening progress that has been made for decades."

Geoffrey Precourt, U.S. editor at research consultancy WARC, who attended the conference, agreed that bias was coming to the forefront in some parts of society. "Even as multicultural audiences are growing in size and affluence, they are also witnessing renewed push-back from the less-progressive corners of American society."

Pritchard urged marketers to break the myths around marketing to multicultural audiences, such as putting it into a separate division or assuming that advertising will broadly appeal to every ethnic group.

He also outlined ways that P&G is tackling bias, including "dramatically increasing" the diversity shown in its advertising and removing stereotypes; new products such as its Pantene Gold for African-American women; and launching a website to "start a conversation around racial bias."

He added that P&G has ensured that ads for soap products Swiffer and Dawn and diaper brand Luvs feature doting African-American fathers. "Black fathers are often unfairly stereotyped as being absent or inattentive. We view our advertising right with black families as the highest bar to clear," Pritchard said.

Laundry detergent Tide has a U.S. market share of 43 percent, Pritchard said, adding that it is the most popular among different groups, including Latinos and baby boomers. The brand also helped increase P&G's household division's net sales by 2 percent according to first fiscal quarter results.

Agency diversity

Just as P&G put its media agencies on alert for "murky" business practices earlier in the year, it is also ready to act when suppliers' teams are not representative of the consumers it sells to. "Look around the room at your next copy meeting and see how many people look like the consumers you're serving," Pritchard said at the conference.

"For too long, we've been giving a pass to our agencies on getting diverse teams — self included. We've not been as forceful in making this a priority, and that ends today."

Earlier this month, P&G launched the latest iterations of its "Thank You, Mom" commercials, the campaign idea it uses to promote its sponsorship of the Olympic Games. The "Love Over Bias" ads take inspiration from athletes including Zahra Lari, the first Emirati figure skater to compete internationally, and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, an openly-gay athlete.

It also ran "The Talk," an ad showing mothers telling their children stories about racial prejudice, to promote its "My Black is Beautiful" discussion site.