‘We are trying to change stereotypes that have been around for generations’ – P&G’s Kainaz Gazder

P&G vice president and chief marketing officer for Asia-Pacific, India, Middle East and Africa Kainaz Gazder spoke to Mumbrella's Ravi Balakrishnan about brands moving the dial on social change, making sure P&G's e-commerce partners remain 'on message' and dealing with negative feedback to its advertising

Can you give us a few examples of the way communication from P&G has managed to affect or change societal norms? Or is it asking too much of brand communication to expect it to change society? 

“Our brands have to be a force for good and a force for growth. It’s interesting you ask ‘if it is expecting too much’. The way we see it, brands have to drive the right cultures and belief. There are studies which say that these shared beliefs are the deciding factor about brands for half of the world. And it does not matter whether it is a Gen Z consumer or a boomer. In some cases, we are trying to change stereotypes and norms that have been around for generations. We recognise that it does take time. 

“It is not just about creating one film or using three influencers. We will continue with an approach that’s right and relevant for that point of time. As an example, I’d have to pick something that has been going on for years: ‘Share The Load’ for Ariel from India. That campaign is about equal work in the household and it has had many avatars.

“We started in 2015 and when we did a survey at the time, 79% of men believed that household chores should be done by women. We are in the third phase of the campaign and in 2018, when we did the same survey, 52%of men thought household chores had to be done by women.

“On the one hand, it felt good that we had moved the needle from 79% to 52%; but it still a reminder that over half the men still believe household chores need to be done by women. We have a long way to go and we have to continue to drive it. The numbers tell us that when we are a force for good, we also become a force for growth.”

What are some of the significant campaigns in this space that have happened on your watch?

“I’d like to talk about some of the newer ones. The first one is the Saudi ‘Always – Generation of Firsts’. 

“Always and Whisper are the same brand. We want it to stand for empowering women – making sure they get what they deserve. The cultural environment in Saudi is unique. And so, when the crown price declared that women could drive, we used it as an opportunity to create a campaign that talked about many of the firsts that this generation of women will be doing.

“We brought together some key influencers – women who could bring that to life and share the message that women can be doing a lot, irrespective of which profession or lifestyle they are used to. It was completely  conceptualised and created by a group of women in front of and behind the camera.

Japan is a complete contrast to Saudi but has its own societal concerns. Some norms are particularly restrictive for women and girls. “For instance, in school, if a girl does not have straight black hair, she is supposed to explain and provide a natural hair certificate which says why her hair is not black or that it is naturally brown or curly. This tells people that if you don’t conform to one standard, you are not normal. Which is not inclusive and particularly for young girls, it makes them rethink whether they are a normal part of society. “There was campaign starting in Tokyo questioning some of these beliefs and Pantene joined in.

“We took it on ourselves as a cause; we want to help fight for and talked about it and managed to get that norm within the department of education in Tokyo to change. There are a number of things unique to each country but others that are quite common – what women are expected to do, how they are stereotyped or the norms that they are expected to follow. 

“As a company, P&G has always been very inclusive. As I’ve grown up in P&G, I never felt I was different because I was a woman. We owe it society to make sure that what comes out across the border is we truly see equal.” 

Considering your mandate covers several regions with vastly differing standards of social and economic development, how do you customise your messages while still remaining true to what you want to convey? 

“Our fundamental starting point is always the consumer. The norms surrounding them and the beliefs they grow up with are different and unique. When we understand where they come from, we are able to relate to them.


“For instance, Gillette in South Africa. The insights and the cultural aspects there are very different from any other country. We did something around Women’s Day. Unlike the rest of the world where it is celebrated on March 8, in South Africa it is on August 9 because that’s the date women started fighting apartheid. 

“As the team spent time with consumers, we realised that unlike the rest of the world, boys in South Africa in many cases are brought up only by women. Two out of three kids don’t have a father. The norm of the father-son bonding and learning how to shave are not relevant culturally. What Gillette did around Women’s Day is to pay respect to the women who are bringing up the new generation of men. It was brought to life with a real story.

This caught on with even the president talking about it in his Women’s Day address and tweeting about it. And then it took on a life of its own. We are waiting to see how this affects society and changes mindsets.  (Through this campaign) we are saying this is the best a man can get and therefore the best men can be. Which is what we say everywhere but the way it comes to life in South Africa is different from how it is in India.

“We were talking about Share the Load and how it breaks stereotypes. Joy which is a different brand in Japan actually used the same stereotype in a campaign called Job to Joy. But again, the way it is communicated is very different.”  

 We recently saw a promotion on Lazada called Ladyland which featured many P&G products. Given that you are trying to push a more inclusive agenda, what do you make of promotions for your products on e-commerce that sends out a contrary message? To what extent can you control the messaging? 

Thanks for pointing that out. Going back to your specific question about control , we work very closely with our e-commerce partners.

“We don’t see it as a channel but a portal where we build brands. We are spending a lot of effort and energy as we tie up with these retailers to make sure the communication that goes out is what the brand stands for and represents our beliefs. Slips happen where we miss it, but I’ll make sure this gets corrected. It is a great reminder that we have more to do across the spectrum.”

What specific difference has working with diverse teams made?

“Fundamentally, I look for diversity of thought. There are of course many different aspects to diversity like national, cultural and gender. But at the end of the day,  people coming from different backgrounds, beliefs and who have been educated differently, brings diversity of thought. Which is what we spend a lot of time cultivating and maximising for the strength of our businesses. 

“Whether you look at it as a regional hub or a local team, everyone plays a role. We are able to identify the right consumer insights and understand cultural norms. It helps us address stereotypes and drive home a message that the brand wants to stand for. Across my region – Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa -, our brand and marketing teams have people from all 105 countries and a few more; over 55% are women and when you put those together, we get the full array of thoughts, languages and beliefs.” 

The backlash against your messaging has moved from grousing about ‘what about dads?’ during ‘Thank you Mom’ to more severe critiques – the $8 billion writedown on Gillette was greeted with many posts across social media that said things like ‘get woke, go broke’. How does that affect what you do?

“It fundamentally comes back to our beliefs. If we believe we are on the right track and making a difference, we will continue to drive it. It’s an accepted norm that everyone has a point of view and you have to respect it. But you still need to know what you want to do. Brands have to be sure of what they want to stand for, the beliefs they are going to share. When that is clear, it helps us navigate our way through anything and everything. 

“We know that we have a long way to go to help drive the change in society that we want to see. To drive ‘we see equal’ in every way possible. We manifest that through brands, with each of them taking on a unique challenge.”

But  do you run the risk of reading the market wrong? Of maybe becoming more politically correct than your audience?

“We always start with the consumer. We are reading what they say: both the sentiment and the messages, thanks to technology. That’s always on for us, whether it is about a new campaign or an old one, every single hour and day. We are conscious of the fact that we are never going to lose touch with what the sentiment is. The best way is to stay close and be connected.” 

So, you feel none of the work that you have created is likely to alienate your consumers?

“We haven’t seen that yet. We keep getting encouraging feedback and are able to triangulate that in many ways. The most important is obviously consumer sentiment and messages, but we also read how our brands are doing – are they growing? Are they making a difference? We link that to what we do. 

“When the growth rates are a steady and positive, it’s an affirmation of the fact that what we are doing is right. Communication today is not just advertising or what it was 20 years ago – merely what a brand said on TV. Today, people who talk about brands and influence others become our advertisers. It’s the most meaningful, impactful and influential advertising that any brand can get.”


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