LAS VEGAS – Procter & Gamble (P&G) made a relatively inconspicuous debut at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Sunday, though one that touched on everything from climate change to smart toothbrushes. While the CPG giant's first presentation at the notoriously busy annual trade conference was not a blockbuster keynote — instead being given to media members packed into a mid-sized conference room — the content signaled how the company is thinking differently about the central role technology will play in modernizing its business and addressing broader issues weighing on consumers.
"We're living in a time of mass disruption, where the exponential power of technology, combined with shifting societal and environmental forces, are transforming consumer experiences every single day," Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard said at the marketer's introductory talk. LifeLabs is the umbrella term used by P&G to refer to its presentation and exhibit CES.
Pritchard, along with Kathy Fish, P&G's chief research development and innovation officer, identified four key areas driving what they repeatedly referred to as a state of "mass disruption": the acceleration of urbanization, an aging consumer populace, resource scarcity and the rapid evolution of digital. The last point, in particular, recurred as a theme and informed a bevy of new tech-equipped products the 182-year-old marketer showcased from brands like Oral-B, Gillette and Olay, as well as newer names.
"All of this is underpinned by the power of pervasive digital technology: data, analytics and technology are dominating every aspect of how we live, work and play," Pritchard said. "Data and technology are literally affecting every aspect of daily life and are enabling people to solve their unique problems and meet their individual desires in a highly personalized and yet interconnected way."
Addressing real-world problems
Plenty of the usual tech buzzwords are being put forward by P&G at CES — blockchain, direct-to-consumer marketing and e-commerce all got nods — but the company also addressed potentially unusual topics during Sunday's brand-focused discussion, such as the effects that population growth and climate change will have on consumer habits.
"Two-thirds of the global population will experience water stress by 2025," Fish said, appearing to cite UN data. "The water crisis and other environmental challenges will change the way people live and consume, which brings massive opportunities for innovation."
Part of P&G's answer to the problem is a new home and personal care brand called DS3, which currently has a campaign running on IndieGoGo. The label, spanning hand soap to shampoo and laundry detergent, is billed as "liquid-free" — meaning the products can work without water — and aims to eliminate "80% of the waste, 70% of the space and 75% of the emissions" that go into producing similar offerings, according to Fish.
"This technology could transform many product categories," Fish said.
Other goods initially piloted on IndieGoGo included the Gillette Heated Razor, which quickly sold out on the crowdfunding site following its September launch, and a smart home fragrance system called AIRIA. The razor, the first product from GilletteLabs, is equipped with a heating bar to replicate the feeling of a hot towel and will become more widely available later this year, a spokesperson told Marketing Dive on the showroom floor.
"P&G is integrating cutting-edge technologies into everyday products and services to improve people's lives," Pritchard said of the new offerings. "We're combining what’s needed with what's possible."
Changing times for P&G
All of the high-powered gadgetry and concepts on display — which additionally featured a skin wand from the brand Opté, an AI-powered Oral-B toothbrush and an SK-II "phygital" retail store — along with the talk's theme of disruption come as P&G will soon experience a considerable shake-up of its own.
The company in July plans to restructure around six category-focused business units, each led by a CEO who will guide decisions around everything from brand communications to packaging. Given the timing of CES, it's possible that some of the new products being shown are indicative of how P&G will think about innovation moving forward, including through a bigger focus on IoT, crowdfunding experiments and sustainability.
"[The] forces of mass disruption are shaping P&G's approach to innovation," Pritchard said. "The best way to deal with that disruption is to constructively lead disruption, which is what we're trying to do."
And though P&G has continued to push into nascent technology areas and direct-to-consumer services through its legacy brands and more acquisitions, executives also made it clear on Sunday that the company's bigger CES presence was about more than demoing some new goods.
"We're open for business," Fish said. "We're collaborating with and looking for new partners and entrepreneurs to unlock sources of growth from technologies, products, services or solutions."