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Did P&G Miss the Mark with Its U.S. Soccer ‘Gender Pay Equity Once and for All’ Ad?

By Paula Beadle

As a woman-owned and operated sponsorship marketing agency, Caravel takes notice when an iconic brand leverages its sponsorship to make a social statement. We believe sponsorship is an underused but very effective vehicle to communicate and support diversity, inclusion and equality. Brands that take a strong position on social issues should be recognized and rewarded. It’s no longer acceptable for brands to sit on the fence and play it safe. They must be vocal about what they stand for. This is particularly true for brands that have enjoyed success selling products and services for women.

Procter & Gamble recently demonstrated how sponsorship can be leveraged to reinforce corporate social responsibility. P&G is a sponsor of U.S. Soccer and the U.S. Women’s National Team. The consumer goods corporation supports U.S. Soccer through its Secret brand and recently announced a donation of $529,000 to help close the pay gap for each player on the U.S. team who won the World Cup earlier this month.

What I found interesting about the partnership was that P&G ran a Secret ad in the New York Times with this message: “Let’s take this moment of celebration to propel women’s sports forward. We urge the U.S. Soccer Federation to be a beacon of strength and end gender pay inequality once and for all.”

I don’t take issue with companies that communicate their social good deeds and positions with a “loud and proud” voice. But these announcements should come from the rights holder. The rights holder has an obligation to its sponsors to drive powerful messages like this. Although I thought the ad was impactful, I wonder if it would have been more powerful if P&G had worked in collaboration with U.S. Soccer to make the announcement jointly, encouraging fans and other companies to support gender pay equity. I realize that collaborating in that way would have meant a lost opportunity to capitalize on the timeliness of the announcement, but it’s not too late for P&G to take a leadership role and bring all the sponsors together for a conversation to further this important topic.

I’m hopeful fans will get more actively involved. Fans have a powerful voice. Showing support for the players, teams and sponsors will make a difference. Shifting the revenue will make a real impact on gender pay equity. Men’s sports generate the lion’s share of revenue from ticket sales and sponsorship. Driving fan participation should be a priority of all sponsor programs. Sponsors can help increase ticket sales and encourage fan engagement—this needs to be part of the sponsor conversation.

I’m going to take a detour from my area of expertise for a moment and comment on gender pay equity as a woman-owned business. I am optimistic that P&G will continue sponsoring women’s sports and other women’s organizations—that support goes a long way to bridge the pay equity gap and bring attention to the competitiveness, excitement and athleticism of women’s sports. Not to mention the marketing value of sponsoring teams, events and entertainment properties that P&G’s customers care about and attend.

I’m also hopeful P&G will continue to look within its organization at the number of women currently holding board and leadership positions. In June 2019, P&G’s CEO and board chairman, David Taylor, joined 14 other chief executive officers to launch an effort to connect diverse candidates with companies seeking new board directors. Taylor commented, “I am excited to be part of the NYSE’s Board Advisory Council to help address the diversity and equality gap that exists in many board rooms around the world. At P&G, we know we will be stronger and more successful if we have a diverse, inclusive and gender-equal company all the way from entry level to the board of directors.”

While I applaud Mr. Taylor’s comments, I’d like to see his efforts start with P&G’s 11-member board, which currently includes only four women. A company whose products are primarily marketed to women, purchased by women and serving the needs of women must have more women seated at the tables where decisions about and for women are being made.

In June 2019, P&G announced that by 2023 it hopes that “at least half of its product commercials are directed by women.” At the time of that announcement, women directed only 10 percent of its commercials. As one of the world’s biggest advertiser, this pledge to establish more gender equality behind the scenes is significant. But imagine what would happen if P&G said, beginning TODAY, women will direct 50 percent of our commercials. Now that would influence an immediate shift. Again, from a marketing standpoint, doesn’t it make sense to have the people you are speaking to—your customers—involved in the conversations and doing the work?

That brings me back to sponsorship. Traditional forms of marketing help you tell the story, but sponsorship marketing brings the story to life. It’s great to take a position and say it, but you also have to show it in meaningful ways. Brands: Give this challenge to your sponsor rights holders to meet this objective. Rights holders: Work with your sponsors to develop sponsorship programs that weave in their corporate social responsibility strategies.

About the author: Paula Beadle is the president of Caravel Marketing. She is a results-driven trailblazer with a proven record of creating order out of chaos. Paula has helped numerous organizations discover and achieve their goals by developing and managing innovative sponsorship initiatives, generating incremental revenue, and successfully coaching thriving teams, executives and boards.