Do Everything, Say Nothing

futurelab default header

P&G’s Dawn dishwashing detergent is facing an immense and somewhat delicate opportunity: it has been donating product to help clean wildlife impacted by oil spills since the Exxon Valdez in 1989, and it is already making a contribution to BP’s Gulf disaster relief. I understand that its marketers are considering how much more it might do without getting accused of opportunism.

So much commercial speech these days is irrelevant, whether realized in ads or on social platforms. Humor often replaces relevance or meaning and conversation is considered valuable almost irrespective of the topics being conversed about. It’s rather stunning that brands pay to talk to consumers and then don’t really have anything all that important to say. 

The Gulf spill and Dawn’s past use in such circumstances are facts, just as Dawn’s efficacy in wiping oil off of wild birds’ wings is a factual demonstration of its grease-cutting benefits. I think it should go to town with the idea because it’s:

  • Relevant. No consumer can miss the BP story these days and I’d wager that very few of them think it’s a good thing that America’s righthand coast is about to get coated in oil. 
  • Authentic. Saving wildlife impacted by the spill is going to happen whether or not Dawn helps out. It’s not a made-up event in a world otherwise filled with pseudo-events.
  • Simple. Connecting the dots on this one is so direct and obvious, as dipping a bird wing in detergent seems like it’s no different than doing the same with a plate covered in spaghetti sauce.

There are valid concerns about why it might not be a good idea to associate with the spill in any visible way, the most notable point being that doing anything would risk the appearance of opportunism or plain ‘ol crass commercialism. Oddly enough, Dawn was already conducting a fundraising program (donating a dollar to wildlife preservation for each bottle sold ) and has never received any complaints about its integrity that i know of.

So I think the only risk here would be if it chose to muck up its good work with schmarty-pants creative or some complicated social media registration nonsense. The situation doesn’t call for twentysomethings adoring themselves in videos they post on YouTube or Facebook friends turning their profile pictures Dawn blue. We don’t need to see beautiful ads declaring that the brand is a good corporate citizen.

Dawn needs to bend over backwards to help and say nothing. Here’s why:

  • Actions speak louder than words. I’ve long questioned whether consumers want to have conversations with brands as much as about them. Doing good things can provide the substance for those conversations.
  • Information matters most to people who are looking for it. The people most likely to complain about Dawn’s efforts would likely be those who were least interested in the substance of its work. Why ask for their criticism?
  • Credibility is earned, not declared. Doing good isn’t about doing good marketing communications, even if the latter simply shares the former. See the prior two points for details.

If I were advising P&G I’d tell it to ship a zillion bottles of Dawn to the Gulf. Loan employees to the clean-up effort. Keep doing good work and avoid announcing anything. Don’t make it cute or engaging or social. Employees will talk. So will other relief workers. Media will inquire. Social networks will spike. Substantively. Authentically. Organically.

The opportunity to achieve any brand benefit will only be realized  if it does everything to help…and says nothing about it. Could keeping your corporate mouth shut be the best way to propagate news via social?

(Image: from Dawn’s "Everyday Wildlife Champions" page on Facebook)

Original Post: