Super Bowl

Olay’s Debatable Super Bowl Pivot

28 Jan 2020  

One of the interesting brands to watch on this year’s sold-out Super Bowl is Olay, the global skin care brand owned by P&G. Olay advertised on the Super Bowl in 2019 but is taking a very different approach in 2020. It is not clear how well it will work.

Olay 2019

Last year Olay ran a classic and safe Super Bowl ad. The brand hired Sarah Michelle Gellar, famous for her role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to star in an ad that was a parody of a slasher film. The message was clear: Olay transforms your skin. You can watch the ad here.

The spot combined celebrity and high production values to deliver a clear and product focused message.

Olay 2020

This year, Olay is taking a very different approach, supporting a cause instead of focusing on a product benefit. The brand is partnering with Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that works to increase the number of women in computer science.

Olay is still investing in celebrities. This year’s spot features Lilly Singh, Busy Philipps, Taraji Henson and Katie Couric, as well as a retired NASA astronaut. Olay is donating $1 for every Tweet using #MakeSpaceforWomen.

While the final spot is not yet available, the teaser seems to be very focused on the cause and space. You can watch a teaser of the ad here.

The Challenge

Olay’s shift is part of a trend in marketing. Brands are spending more and more time talking about causes, embracing a brand purpose. The theory is that employees and customers want to feel good about the brands they use and support.

The question is whether a cause really drives purchase. Will more people use Olay because the brand supports women going into computer science? Perhaps. I suspect the product benefit – its impact – is ultimately more important.

The challenge with cause marketing is that there needs to be a clear link between the brand and the cause. Patagonia, for example, fights for the environment, and that fits perfectly with its brand positioning. Verizon supported first responders in its Super Bowl ad, and that was a bit more a stretch. Budweiser promoted wind energy last year in its Super Bowl ad, and is not repeating that approach. I suspect people don’t pick a beer because it uses wind power.

Olay’s teaser spot certainly did not resonate well with my Kellogg MBA classes – people questioned the linkage and wondered about the questionable use of humor.

For P&G, and all the other brands embracing causes on the Super Bowl this year, creating a strong linkage is critical if the effort is going to produce results.

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