Procter & Gamble’s ad partnership with Katie Couric harks back to the days of shows being ‘brought to you by’

Procter & Gamble is set to sponsor an online series of interviews produced by veteran journalist Katie Couric, in a partnership that recalls the time when TV shows were “brought to you by” a particular brand.

Couric, who has just launched production company Katie Couric Media, is making “Getting There,” a series of online videos profiling women for website theSkimm, which will be sponsored by P&G, the world’s largest advertiser.

Her focus will be on giving women a voice and she is a board member of SeeHer, an organization formed in 2016 to tackle sexism in adverts. P&G aspires to having equal representation of men and women in its advertising and has launched a series of initiatives with prominent women, including U.S. rapper Queen Latifah and ad agency founder Madonna Badger.

“It is really storytelling that P&G is proud to be associated with, but it's not necessarily, you know, about having a direct link to that product,” Couric told CNBC at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France last week. “It could just be sort of the halo effect of having a product that… wants to be connected to the kind of storytelling I want to do.”

Procter & Gamble's Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France, June 2018
Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity
Procter & Gamble's Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France, June 2018

“It really hearkens back to the old days when television shows were ‘brought to you by’... You know, the Texaco Theatre or Milton Berle.” Milton Berle was one of the hosts of TV series the Texaco Star Theatre, a show sponsored by Texaco (since bought by Chevron) that started in 1948.

Details of which P&G products or brands will be used in advertisements are still being worked out, according to Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer.

“What (the series) allows any of our brands to do is participate in (the content), either through a sponsorship or in an integration (such as a product placement) if that makes sense, or some kind of a pre-roll (advert), but we want to be innovative about that as well,” Pritchard told CNBC.

Procter & Gamble has a long history of associating itself with content, being the originator of the phrase “soap opera” because of its laundry brands’ sponsorship of radio shows, which started in the 1930s. It also ran its own TV soap opera, “As The World Turns,” which ended in 2010 after more than 50 years of broadcasting.

Journalist Katie Couric at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France, June 2018
Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity
Journalist Katie Couric at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France, June 2018

Content is a hot topic in marketing right now, both in terms of brands creating their own short films, and scrutinizing the third-party produced content they are associated with.

Advertisers are keen to produce videos that stir people’s emotions, such as HP’s six-minute “Paro” film that shows a schoolgirl whose teacher reads a story she has written and makes it into a book, released for International Women’s Day in March. P&G produced an award-winning video in 2014 for its Always feminine protection brand, aiming to change the negative meaning of the phrase “Like a girl,” in a three-minute spot that has been watched more than 65 million times on YouTube.

But one question is whether such content, which doesn’t always feature products, leads to sales. But for Pritchard, it’s part of a broader marketing plan. “What brands need to do is not try to do everything in one 30-second ad. We like to think about brands as kind of like painting on a canvas,” he told CNBC.

“You have some content, we don’t even call it advertising, some content that is expressing the point of view the brand believes in. Always ‘Like a girl’ was simply bringing you the view point that young girls have a huge drop in confidence at puberty, because of demeaning phrases like ‘You do that like a girl.’”

“So (we) wanted to make ‘Like a girl’ an amazing thing. You know, Always could do that because Always is about feminine protection. It's about confidence, we understand confidence, we brought that out. They also have ads about the product — (ads that are) 30 seconds, 15 seconds, two seconds.”