At first glance, both sets of commercials could be from the same campaign.
Both have the same dark lighting and gritty look, underlined by minor-key music tracks. Both show their main characters in determined semi-isolation. Both show self-sacrificial training for the winter Olympics. And both confine product pitches to brief, incidental placements.
Separated at birth
But in substance, they couldn't be more different.
Because while the AT&T campaign follows a tired, old "Let's support our athletes" strategy, Procter & Gamble's does something far more fundamental and compelling.
Each AT&T spot focuses on an athlete in a minor winter sport: skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace, alpine snowboarder Justin Reider, short-track speed skater Alyson Dudek and Paralympic alpine skier Heath Calhoun.
The first spot, for example, shows "Pikus-Pace lifting weights in her home basement, feeding her kids, watching them play soccer, and then later saying good-night via video before she jumps onto her sled for a late-night training run," as Advertising Age describes it.
Though nobody's admitting it in so many words, the P&G campaign was very much on AT&T's mind. "These aren't made-up stories, these are real stories about sacrifice and determination and how they made it," Rudy Wilson, AT&T VP-brand management and advertising, told Ad Age."We're showing them in a way not to make people cry, but to inspire people."
Specifically, to "inspire" viewers to download an #ItsOurTime app, then use Facebook, Twitter or email to upload video or audio of an individual "U-S-A" chant to a website, where they can become part of a "Wall of Support" on display in Times Square.
But in thinking that Procter & Gamble's objective is "to make people cry," AT&T completely missed the point of what they're doing.
Missing the point
The P&G commercials are also about "sacrifice and determination," but by mothers, on behalf of their children – and "how they" – the children, not the mothers – "made it."
Yes, the P&G campaign inspired tears and lumps in the throat, but that was an effect, not a cause. What their commercials and videos were all about was a huge valentine to their audience – the mothers of the world, who sacrifice for their kids, whether athletes or not. As we noted after the 2012 London Olympics, P&G's
"Proud Sponsor of Moms" campaign glorified not the Olympic athletes, but the mothers who raised, nourished, supported and rooted for them from very young childhood on -- and, by extension, mothers throughout the world (who, incidentally, comprise the target audience for Procter & Gamble products).
For Sochi this year, P&G has produced literally dozens of YouTube videos, ranging from two to four minutes in length. One, called "Pick Them Back Up" encapsulates two minutes of mothers helping their kids get back up again, from tottering baby steps to Olympic finishes. Its message, in unspoken end titles is, "For teaching us that falling only makes us stronger, Thank you, Mom." The longer videos are mini-documentaries about 2014 Olympic athletes and their mothers.
The point here is not to generate recorded shout-outs in Times Square, but to make mothers feel good about all they do to raise their children – and about the household brand that recognizes them for it.
And boy, does it work.
In both Ace Metrix television research and Unruly Media's Brand Tracker viral video measurements, P&G was far and away the overall winner. And it looks like they'll go for the advertising gold this year.
As of this writing, their "Pick Them Back Up" video has 14,082,397 YouTube views, while AT&T's "inspiring" video has inspired a total of 769.
The whole point of getting people to "talk" with brands via social media is supposed to be building an emotional connection. Funny, but P&G has managed to do that with just a commercial.