Procter & Gamble is making a Hollywood movie
A small step for the company that invented the soap opera but a giant leap for content marketing

In the 1930s the soap maker Procter & Gamble had the radical idea to produce radio dramas to connect with women working in the home with only the radio for company. These shows, which later moved to television, became known as soap operas.

The company was an early pioneer of what is now known as content marketing – engaging audiences by creating entertaining content that is not overtly promotional.

P&G is now making a new foray into drama announcing a deal with the Hollywood production company Imagine Entertainment to co-produce film projects. Its first film – Mars 2080 – is about a family moving to a colony on Mars to escape climate change. It is due to be released in cinemas late next year.

It is the first project co-produced and co-financed by P&G and Imagine Entertainment which was founded by director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer. Imagine is behind movies including Apollo 13, Cowboys & Aliens and A Beautiful Mind.

P&G says its scientists will work with film-makers to forecast what life on Mars might be like in 50 years.

“Partnering with Imagine Documentaries and master storytellers Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Justin Wilkes gives P&G the opportunity to help tell stories on topics that are appealing to consumers and are a force for good,” said Marc Pritchard, P&G Chief Brand Officer. 

“P&G Scientists will bring nearly two centuries of experience in science and innovation in areas such as sustainability to help shape a story of what life and home on Mars could look like in the future.”

In January P&G, which makes Fairy Liquid, Ariel and Flash, also joined the streaming fray signing a deal with Stone Village Television (the production company behind the HBO miniseries Empire Falls) to produce a long-form series.

The moves are of course part of a wider trend: companies that did not start out as media companies are now investing in everything from print magazines to feature films.

“Brands are starting out as product companies and evolving into media companies,” Robert Rose from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) told StoryCode. “Amazon is the quintessential example – they sold books and now they are winning Emmys. Brands are looking at that model and seeing multiple lines of revenue and the ability to address audiences when and where they want. Covid is accelerating these changes.”

The economic burden of the pandemic means brands of all sizes are thinking carefully about how to direct their marketing spend. Digital advertising is costly, transient and beset with privacy concerns; events now involve safety measures, liability issues and fewer participants; and even earned media can be problematic – it is challenging to secure column inches in newspapers bursting with pandemic stories. Investing in content is looking like a safer bet.

“Content is the obvious answer,” said Rose from his home in Calabasas, California. “Facebook doesn’t have a great reputation right now and companies are looking at personalized ads and asking: ‘What is that going to get us versus spending a million dollars on a movie?’

“P&G should get great content assets from the Mars movie. They can cut together their own documentary and some nice pieces for YouTube and social media. They are basically paying for something really cool they can get their name behind – they are actually financing high quality b-roll.”

Mars 2080 explores how a family adapts to a new civilization made up of displaced people from all over the world. The movie is described as “scripted drama with documentary elements that will educate as well as entertain”. P&G says the movie will deliver sustainability, equality and health messages.

P&G was founded in 1837 by English candlemaker William Procter and Irish soap maker James Gamble. In the 1930s the company realized that radio drama might be a way to connect with home-makers, a marketing strategy that is credited with helping it survive the Great Depression.


Laura Peek

Laura is the founder of StoryCode and a former Staff News Reporter at The Times and The Daily Mail. She has also written for The Guardian.

Monday, 03 August 2020

Photos: Mars 2080 – Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltec
Video: Content Marketing Institute (CMI)

Film made by the Content Marketing Institute. Full length version can be viewed here.

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