January 12, 2011
As the Web Turns
Hey, fellas, want to spice things up with your lady? Procter & Gamble, the consumer products giant, has some ideas.
A Web site created by the company for husbands and fathers offers articles with titles like “Conquering Sex Problems.” Among other things, the article advises men to take their time in bed.
“If you want a hot woman who acts like a porn star in bed, you need to be prepared to spend some time getting her to that place,” suggests the site, ManoftheHouse.com.
While the Internet is crowded with all kinds of sex advice, P.& G. — the maker of Pampers and Ivory soap and the nation’s largest advertiser — says it has found an untapped marketing opportunity for its products in the family man.
Much of the popular sex advice for men, in publications like Maxim and GQ, is directed toward singles on the prowl, the company says. Even its top rival, Unilever, has gone decidedly raunchier in a campaign for Axe, a grooming brand aimed at young men, that includes a double entendre about cleaning sporting equipment and a man’s private parts.
The P.& G. site gets out of the bedroom, offering tips on grilling burgers, cleaning toilets and disciplining children. It promises, “We’ll make men out of you yet,” while also promoting Gillette razors, Head & Shoulders shampoo and other company products.
“What we are trying to do is speak to the whole man,” said Jeannie Tharrington, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble Productions. “Certainly, relationships and sex are part of an adult man’s life.”
Josh Bernoff, senior vice president at Forrester Research who has written about P.& G.’s marketing efforts, said ManoftheHouse.com was not so different from “As the World Turns,” the TV soap opera that was another P.& G. innovation.
“This is the 21st-century version of the soap opera,” he said. “It’s information. It’s topical.”
More and more big companies have discovered the how-to genre as a marketing tool. General Mills offers dieting advice and coupons on Tablespoon.com, and Wal-Mart has a Web site in which mothers blog about everything from being frugal to reviewing products.
Jeremiah Owyang, a partner at the Altimeter Group, a digital strategy consulting firm, said company-generated lifestyle sites could be effective as long as they did not push the brands too hard. Reviewing the homepage of ManoftheHouse.com, he said, “All of these discussions on this page are already happening on Facebook,” he said. “The reason these things do work is that consumers are already having these discussions, having a healthy breakfast, talking about their wives in relationships.”
Ms. Tharrington said company research found that men were going to women’s Web sites to find information on recipes, cleaning the house or getting a stain out of a shirt. As for sex talk coming from a company that has honed a wholesome image — remember Mr. Whipple? — she said, “For us, it’s part of it, but it’s not the whole thing. What we try to do is be tasteful.”
Procter & Gamble has a long history of unusual marketing. The Cincinnati-based company created one of the first radio soap operas as a way to market its products, and years later it created its own soap operas, including “As the World Turns,” for television.
In the last decade, Procter & Gamble was one of the pioneers in word-of-mouth marketing campaigns in which mothers and teenagers were plied with samples and coupons to draw more customers.
In 2000, the company introduced Beinggirl.com, which provides information and expert advice on issues that teenage girls might be too embarrassed to ask a parent or a doctor about, like menstruation, eating disorders, acne and dating. The site also advertises P.& G. tampons and offers free samples.
In the years since Beinggirl.com was created, Procter & Gamble has started several other lifestyle Web sites, including one that is directed at women, Homemadesimple.com. David Germano, the general manager of ManoftheHouse.com, said consumer data showed that 10 percent of the visitors to the women’s site were men.
ManoftheHouse.com has brought on several writers who had established father-focused blogs. Karl Withakay, a Utah-based singer and songwriter who writes some of the sex articles, including “Conquering Sex Problems,” was already writing about relationships for other media outlets.
“The pieces he wrote were based upon his own experience,” said Craig J. Heimbuch, ManoftheHouse.com’s editor in chief, in an e-mail. “I appreciate his perspective a great deal. It lends itself well to the tone of the site, which is men helping men.”
So are men drawn to a PG-rated Web site when so much R- and X-rated competition is out there? Procter & Gamble says that so far it is pleased with the number of visitors. The site was started in June, and by December it had topped a half a million monthly unique visitors.
Jonah Disend, chief executive of the brand strategy firm Redscout, questioned whether ManoftheHouse.com would generate a big following. He said men tended to be more interested in specialized publications about a specific hobby or sport.
“Just because no one’s doing it doesn’t mean there’s a real market for it,” he said.
Racy also works. Indeed, that is just what Procter & Gamble’s archrival, Unilever, discovered in its efforts to market Axe. The campaign it started last year, which included the double entendre, has become a sensation; last month, Zeta Interactive proclaimed the ads as having received the most social media buzz in 2010.
“We’ve taken a calculated risk,” said Heather Mitchell, a Unilever spokeswoman, “knowing what resonates with our guys.”