This past week marked something of a milestone for The Recount – we launched a pilot marketing partnership with P&G, a company I’ve worked closely with over the past ten years. We’re testing out Twitter’s Amplify program, which pairs quality editorial with contextually relevant marketing content. The initial portion of the partnership centers on a unique creative asset: A 60-second film called “Lead with Love,” the centerpiece of a major campaign focused on P&G’s commitment to making the world a better place in 2021.
Yes, I’m writing about the power of advertising here, and I’m about to praise a long time partner. For those of you already rolling your eyes, you’re welcome to move right along…but my point has to do with the ability of nuanced and intentional commercial speech to shift the tone of discourse in this country, something I believe we all desperately need. As P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard has said to me countless times, advertising can be powerful speech, and companies have a duty to wield it responsibly.
“Lead with Love” begins by referencing Plutchik’s eight primary human emotions. For those of us who didn’t realize such a list existed, they are Joy, Sadness, Fear, Excitement, Anger, Disgust, Surprise, and Love. Babies and young children play a starring role, and the soundtrack is a heartstring-plucking rendition of The Cranberries hit Dreams. After walking us through images of children experiencing a range of emotions, the film urges us to “lead with love,” paying off the concept with a promise from P&G to commit “2,021 acts of good for our communities, for equality and for the planet” this coming year.
The first time I saw this campaign, I took it at face value, and I’ll admit I was a bit underwhelmed. “Lead with Love” is a great tagline, and the film, as with nearly everything the company does in longer form advertising, is flawlessly executed. But at first blush it lacked the emotional power of some of P&G’s earlier work. If you haven’t watched “The Best Men Can Be,” which confronts toxic masculinity, “The Look” or “The Talk,” which take on racism, or “Thank You Mom,” which makes me tear up every single time I see it, you really should. They’re just a few of the campaigns P&G has created that break any number of norms in the ad business – they’re more short films than commercials, they take a stand on hot button issues, and they pack quite a punch.
But like all good pieces of media, “Lead with Love” stuck with me. Each time I thought about it, fresh realizations pushed through. The campaign launched at a time when our nation was convulsed in divisive rhetoric. It focuses our gaze on the future – an implicit recognition that for the past four years, our politics has been driven by fear. That fear reached a menacing pitch as powerful forces questioned the validity of our recent presidential election. Given all this, many marketers had already pulled their ads and were waiting out the social unrest. Very few were willing to support news organizations – it was our job to cover all this, after all, and the news was distressing. But instead of playing it safe and cancelling the campaign, here was a consumer packaged goods company – whose products were used by nearly every voter in the nation – asking all of us to forsake fear, disgust, and sadness for the simple power of love.
In normal times such a message might come off as overstated or even clichéd. But as our nation’s worst impulses crystallized into unrelenting images of hate and anger on January 6th, the campaign’s message came into a sharper relief. In the context of the capital insurrection,”Lead with Love” becomes a simple yet powerful rejection of fear as a principle actor in our lives. And the company behind that message is cast in a light of both leadership and cultural relevance. I’ve said over and over again that it’s time for business to lead. With “Lead with Love,” P&G is giving us all an example of how to do just that.