×

Procter & Gamble is throwing what it hopes will be a touchdown pass to the NFL.

The consumer-products giant has tapped the football league to push one of its biggest marketing initiatives in years. Sixteen different teams — including the Cincinnati Bengals in P&G’s hometown — will help the company prod the members of 80 million households who watch NFL games to do their laundry in cold water with Tide detergent.

“We need partners to help us on this mission,” says Amy Krehbiel, brand vice president for P&G’s North America fabric care operations, in an interview. “Who better than the NFL? They do one million pounds of sweaty grass-and-mud-stained laundry every year, which is more than the average person would do in a lifetime.”

Since April, Procter has been running a decidedly different set of commercials for Tide. No harried housewives pour blue liquid on to a stain, but Ice-T, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Annie Murphy are among the celebrities taking part in “cold calls” that push consumers to think about eschewing hot-water washes to save energy, money and the environment. The company even changed the colors of Tide’s decades-old logo to evoke images of cool water.

The goal is to spur a major change in household habits and is just one of many new concepts being touted by the stalwarts of Madison Avenue, who have found they need to recalibrate their marketing arsenal to sell electric vehicles, organic dish soap and streaming-video subscriptions — all products that weren’t even on the drawing board when TV commercial first came to the fore.

“If we can get them to turn to cold, that’s the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road,” says Krehbiel of Tide consumers.

Procter will continue to run its “cold calling” TV ads (a new one features Atlanta Falcons player Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan). But the company has, after weeks of presenting research to individual teams, be able to tell fans of the game that 15 different NFL clubs are now washing jerseys and practice gear in Tide designed for cold washes. Digital and social elements will play up the different teams taking part. And a sweepstakes will award several “Cold Washers,” talking washing machines that reminds their owners about cold-water washing and are festooned with NFL and team designs.

But an affiliation with a sports league may be able to do things that traditional marketing cannot. “I’ve got an eight- and a ten-year-old who played outside all summer, and they get into a lot of stuff but I don’t think it compares to what we we’ve got to do with players are coming out of a the end of the game,” says Todd Cline, director of fabric care research and development in North America for P&G. The teams’ washes, he says, have generated tons of data for Tide to study and utilize.

NFL officials were initially skeptical about the alignment. “We came with our own prejudices about how we wash our own clothes,” says Tracie Rodburg, the league’s senior vice president of sponsorship management.

So Tide scientists went from team to team, making the case to equipment managers that the company had put special polymers and enzymes in the product that would get even tough stains like paint and blood off jerseys.  “Those guys are the toughest, most committed and most dedicated — and also very set in their ways,” says Rodburg.  The league will not mandate that the teams take part in the program, even though P&G is a longtime marketing partner with the NFL. Executives, says Rodburg, want the alliance to be authentic, which means that each team must choose its own path.

Tide and the NFL have scrimmaged in the past, teaming up on some complex Super Bowl ad executions that required the league’s say-so to happen. In 2018, Procter & Gamble was able to insert create a handful of commercials that looked like ads for other products, only to reveal to viewers that “it’s a Tide ad.” And the previous year, Fox sportscaster Terry Bradshaw appeared on camera at one point with a stain on his shirt and then literally took part in a Tide commercial that followed its appearance.

After this massive team-up, the executives behind Tide may have their eyes on another. “We do have another friend that is going to come on to our cold-water campaign later on this fall,” says Krehbiel.