Piers Fawkes over at PSFK just opened up a big can of worms on Friday the 13th by asking the bold question…How Long Can P&G Last? Click here for the full post.

A 170 year-old “tradition rich” Company is really going down ???

In a nutshell, Piers says that P&G brands lack soul & substance. Brands that do have soul, history and substance – (e.g. Innocent Drinks or Method Soap) will continue to cut into P&G’s market share over time. P&G will be forced into a battle of attrition & then ultimately morph into a sort of distribution network that supports “real” brands with the management and their consumers who believe in their values.

Then it gets personal…

Piers then attacks the P&G (and Unilever) mid-level management by saying: “At P&G and Unilever brands appear to still be run from brand books by an army of brand managers who aren’t connected with the values each brand is supposed to contain. They sell faux brands that were created in an age of control – control of media and message

Where he is right:

  • Challenger brands threaten: A new breed of more local/purpose based challenger brands (e.g. Method/Innocent) are inspiring people everywhere & challenging the multi-nationals. I have written about brands like Method on m-cause…these brands inspire me as well.
  • Emergence of a “License/Distribution Network” Model: P&G is already experimenting with this type of business model on its fragrance business–which has experienced excellent growth over the past 15 years. With fragrances, P&G partners with A list fashion houses and consumers to deliver top notch products & marketing programs. Piers is right in that this type of model works can deliver more growth…so P&G could consider moving more in this direction to achieve its growth targets.
  • Even more Openess/Transparency, please…:P&G has long been seen as a closed company with a internally focused corp. culture. But, in recent years, P&G has come a long way. Over the past decade, A.G. Lafley (our CEO) has brought in a wide range of “connect and develop” partners–even competitors, making P&G arguably one of the more innovative FMCG companies in the world (see A.G.’s new book for details). Even so, there is always room for improvement. P&G was a pioneer in “the age of control”. In the new world of soul, history, purpose, openness, and substance, there is an opportunity for P&G to get out front, pioneer, and lead change again. This blog is calling for conversation in this very area…

But then a swing & miss:

I enjoyed Piers article and I really appreciate the challenge he is making…hopefully it will start even more dialog and spur even more change. But where he goes wrong is when he gets a bit personal and calls out BMs for not being connected to their brands…perhaps he had a couple of bad experiences with BMs? I wonder where he got this? I have worked at several other companies (and govt. organizations)…I can tell you that P&G Brand Managers are very passionate about their jobs and their brands. Sure, you will find all types of people in a HUGE company, but this generalization is simply off target…Dave Knox over at the brand manager blog HardKnoxLife even mentions that he once met a P&G BM who tattooed his body with the brand he was working on. (Side note: you should read Dave’s excellent commentary on this debate as well).

P&G is a tradition rich company that will manage through all of this. You don’t make it past 170 years by just sleeping through major transitions in culture and consumer behavior…having said that, changing “before you have to” will be critical for P&G to ensure continued success.