Silver Anvil Nominee: Starting and Sustaining a Conversation About Racial Bias

October 2, 2018

[p&g]
[p&g]

“It’s an ugly, nasty word,” an African-American mother tells her young son. “And you are gonna hear it … But you are not gonna let that word hurt you.”

The scene, which unfolds in a rural setting in what appears to be 1970s America, helps open a two-minute film called “The Talk,” about conversations black families have with their children about racism. PRSA named the campaign as one of the five finalists in the 2018 Silver Anvils.

The film progresses to the present day, in an affluent suburban neighborhood. A mother sits in the passenger seat of an SUV parked in her driveway, talking to her teenage daughter, who is behind the wheel.

“Now, when you get pulled over . . .” the mother begins.

“Mom, I’m a good driver, OK?” the daughter says. “Don’t worry.”

“This is not about you getting a ticket,” the mother says. “This is about you not coming home.”

In another of the film’s vignettes, a different mother tells her young daughter, after the girl has been given something less than a compliment by a woman at a store, “You are not pretty ‘for a black girl.’ You are beautiful, period. OK? Don’t ever forget that.”

The film closes with the words “Let’s all talk about ‘The Talk,’ so we can end the need to have it,” in blue letters on a white background, followed by “My Black Is Beautiful” next to Procter & Gamble Corporation’s P&G logo, and then “It’s time for everyone to #TalkAboutBias.”

Posted to YouTube on July 20, 2017, the film was produced in an effort to revitalize “My Black Is Beautiful,” a program started a decade earlier by a group of female African-American employees at the consumer-products company “to spark a broader dialogue about black beauty,” according to the P&G website. “Our mission is to ignite and support a sustained national conversation by, for and about black women,” it says. “We celebrate the diverse collective beauty of black women” and “strive to define and promote our own beauty standard — one that is an authentic reflection of our indomitable spirit. … Together, we can serve as the catalyst for a movement that effects positive change.”

Procter & Gamble comprises a broad range of products, including women’s beauty and hygiene brands Pantene, Olay and Always.

The company’s “My Black Is Beautiful” website — which offers coupons, along with articles and videos giving advice on topics such as hair care, skin care and relationships — reportedly has 2.6 million members. But leading up to the program’s 10-year anniversary, P&G wanted to relaunch the initiative by expanding its message beyond physical beauty to include support for the black community’s struggle with racial bias.

The challenge was to convey that message in a way that would feel honest, authentic and sensitive to the people it was trying to reach. For insights and counsel, P&G engaged the Egami Group, a New York-based multicultural marketing and communication agency. (Read here for more on them.) The firm’s research found that black parents often have conversations with their kids about the biases that may soon affect their lives.

Gathering insights

With an overall campaign budget of $1.3 million, Egami and P&G’s “My Black Is Beautiful” program worked together to convene five focus groups of multicultural influencers, including CNN host Van Jones and commentator Angela Rye. The marketing team interviewed African-American employees at P&G and formed an advisory council to refine communications and identify risks.

The team engaged communications consultancy Maslansky + Partners to analyze campaign messages and tapped Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience — which uses brain sensors, facial coding, eye tracking and other biometrics that measure non-conscious consumer responses — to gauge reactions to “The Talk” before the film was shown publicly.

Setting goals

To create a call to action, the campaign aimed to engage a minimum of 50 paid influencers, who collectively would generate at least 5 million paid social media impressions and advocate for positive change through their own networks and platforms. In addition, the communications team set out to organically engage 5,000 social-media users with hashtags, working toward a goal of more than 10 million impressions. The campaign would also use P&G’s voice to start conversations celebrating black culture and try to raise the American conscience about racial bias.

Achieving those objectives would require the team to create a piece of content that resonated with audiences and refreshed the “My Black Is Beautiful” brand. Working closely with advertising partner BBDO, Egami developed the two-minute film.

The communications team pitched reporters, editors and producers across national broadcast, consumer, business and trade media. They formed partnerships to feature “The Talk” at events such as the BET Awards and at organizations like Black Girls Rock!, the United Negro College Fund, and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters.

Given the film’s provocative implications regarding race relations and the police, Procter & Gamble expected to receive some backlash about “The Talk.”

Working with senior African-American employees of P&G, Egami Group provided strategic guidance to the company’s leadership on how to manage the controversy and stay the course. Their plan included social-media listening, media monitoring and consumer relations.

Sustaining the dialogue

To continue the conversation after the initial groundswell of attention the film received, the team started #TalkAboutBias Tuesdays and produced related social media posts. In partnership with ABC television, they also worked to integrate “The Talk” into the script of the hit show “Black-ish.” The episode aired six months after the campaign was first launched, creating a second wave of national news coverage.

The campaign to revitalize “My Black Is Beautiful” wound up exceeding many of its goals. It had sought 3,000 downloads of the program’s “action guide” and ended up with 5,251 instead. The promotion also surpassed its goal of 1,000 new opt-ins from consumers.

Since its debut, “The Talk” has earned 900 placements in top-tier media, including CBS News, NBC Nightly News, Fortune, Fast Company, People and The Washington Post. The coverage has started widespread social media conversations, with the “My Black Is Beautiful” program’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts tallying more than 23.6 million impressions, far above the campaign’s goal of 15 million. 

Greg Beaubien

Greg Beaubien is a frequent contributor to PRSA’s publications.

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