- Procter & Gamble ran a full-page ad in the Sunday editions of The New York Times calling for women's equal pay. The ad supports the United States women's national soccer team (USWNT), of which P&G's Secret deodorant brand is a sponsor. Copy implores governing body U.S. Soccer to stand "on the right side of history" on the issue, according to the Times.
- P&G is the first U.S. Soccer sponsor to address the subject of equal pay in such an open way, the Times said. Other sponsors, like Nike, have released ads emphasizing women's empowerment and equality following the U.S. team's World Cup victory, but only in broad terms. P&G said it will donate $529,000 to U.S. women's players, representing $23,000 for each of the 23 athletes on the World Cup team. Marketers such as Visa and Luna Bar have recently shown financial support for the U.S. women's team, but P&G is tackling the topic in the most explicit manner, per the Times.
- Secret shared video spots online echoing the print ad's message, flashing the phrases, "Equal Work. Equal Sweat. Equal Pay." Secret's campaign actually debuted in March, coincidentally lining up with a lawsuit filed by the U.S. women's team against the U.S. Soccer Federation demanding pay and benefits on a par with the men's team, Ad Age reported.
At a time when cause marketing is coming under harsher scrutiny, P&G is pushing further into a thorny, nuanced conversation. By actively calling for equal pay and putting forward a large financial pledge to support female athletes, the company shows it's willing to live out messages of women's empowerment and equality espoused in its advertising.
We’re taking action to help close the @USWNT gender pay gap by giving $529K ($23k x 23 players) to the @USWNTPlayers. #WeSeeEqual #EqualPay #PayThem #USWNT #USWNTPA #DontSweatFairPay #ASNS pic.twitter.com/g9Mf5zOtgb— Secret Deodorant (@SecretDeodorant) July 14, 2019
The approach risks consumer backlash, as equal pay has proved a contentious topic for years, and many consumers have shown an aversion to businesses wading into political and social issues. Star players, including U.S. co-captain Megan Rapinoe, have noted that pay is just one part of a more complex fight for equality, according to the Times.
But in an appearance on "Meet The Press" Sunday, Rapinoe emphasized the power major companies wield in these types of discussions and encouraged others to follow P&G's example, per the Times. P&G has frequently tackled subjects like gender equality and racial bias in its advertising.
While P&G could agitate certain consumer sets with the Secret campaign, the marketer is familiar with controversy and likely calculated that the deodorant brand's customer base — largely women — will welcome the progressive message. Secret has championed equal pay beyond its work with U.S. women's soccer as well.
The brand debuted a campaign last fall, "#IdRatherGetPaid," that highlighted the gender pay gap through a star-studded music video. Female athletes, including retired U.S. soccer player Abby Wambach, made an appearance in the ad.
By more concretely supporting the equal pay cause, P&G could safeguard itself against potential accusations of "woke-washing." The term has become popular in the industry this year as companies latch themselves to timely causes, but do not live out those values internally. Gender equality and pay have been frequent points of dissonance.
Nike, for example, faced harsh criticism in the spring after a piece in the Times revealed the company financially penalized pregnant athletes. The article, which led to the sportswear brand announcing changes to its maternity policies, followed well-received work Nike ran around women's empowerment, including ads starring Serena Williams.