Procter and Gamble's "The Talk."
Procter and Gamble's "The Talk." - 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

A new ad from Procter & Gamble shows an African-American mother and daughter sitting in the front seat of a parked car.

“Now, when you get pulled over —” the mother begins. Her daughter interjects, saying she’s a good driver.

“Baby, this is not about you getting a ticket,” the mother replies. “This is about you not coming home.”

Called "The Talk,"the ad, which shows a series of similarly emotional conversations, is part of P&G’s “My Black is Beautiful” campaign, the latest in a string of ads the company describes as "socially conscious."

“Every mom has the birds and the bees talk, but there was a very specific conversation that African-American mothers have had over decades,” explained Kristine Decker, P&G’s director of marketing for North America. “From the '50s to today – that is the same conversation.”

P&G estimates it’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars across a handful of different campaigns in recent years that all seek to address social issues.

After it tested “The Talk” in a few small TV markets, the ad spread through social media, racking up about 5 million views in just 10 days. P&G still hasn’t done a major TV campaign with it.

The company has found this type of advertising does help drive sales. Similarly, “Like a Girl,” a female empowerment campaign from the Always brand of feminine products helped that business increase its market share by 2 percentage points.

“Everyone makes good, useful stuff now,” explained Jim Nail, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. That “sameness” makes it difficult for companies to create a product that’s substantially different or better than a competitor’s offering.

“If you do manage to do it briefly, you’ll be copied and have a raft of competitors in very short order,” Nail said. That is why, Nail said, an increasing number of big brands have turned to this type of advertising in an attempt to better connect with consumers through a common set of values or by focusing on societal issues, such as those around race or gender.

Nike released an ad featuring LeBron James and Serena Williams, among others, as well as music by Alicia Keys. A voice-over states, “Equality should have no boundaries. ... Opportunity should not discriminate. The ball should bounce the same for everyone.”

Heineken created an ad that paired strangers with opposing beliefs and gave them the option to talk through their differences over a beer.

However, inserting a brand into sensitive and difficult conversations can be risky. Companies can alienate consumers who disagree with their message or the ads can simply miss the mark. Not everyone liked P&G's "The Talk" — its YouTube comments feature a mix of positive and negative reactions.

"I think that anything that has a social point of view is going to have responses in different places," Decker said. "Any time we step out, we hear different points of view from consumers. That’s part of why we want to do these things. It’s just a step in the process. We really are doing this to drive conversation and to drive change."

Pepsi pulled an ad this spring after significant public backlash. It featured model Kendall Jenner leaving a photo shoot to join a group of protesters marching in the street. She then hands a police officer a Pepsi while the protesters cheer.

“Pepsi tried to make their product the solution to the strife between the races,” Nail said. In contrast, he said, Heineken was more successful because it positioned itself as a facilitator, helping people have difficult conversations.

“[Heineken] took more of a side role, as opposed to the classic advertising approach, [which] is to make the product the hero,” he said.

In other words, for this type of advertising to work, the product has to get out of the way.

Follow Tracey Samuelson at @tdsamuelson