Dish Soap’s Long-Running Cause-Related Ad Campaign Timely in Light of Environmental Disaster

It’s not the kind of luck Procter & Gamble Co. was looking for, but its Dawn dish soap is one of the few brand beneficiaries of the massive Gulf Coast oil spill.
The promotion on has raised nearly $383,000 in donations so far.

Dawn launched a new ad for its wildlife rescue efforts on Earth Day and was still in the midst of a related promotional fundraiser just as the environmental catastrophe was unfolding. Earlier this week, it helped drive the point home further, shipping 1,000 bottles of Dawn to animal rescuers in the Gulf Coast, and plans to follow with another 1,000 by week’s end, said spokeswoman Susan Baba.

Lest P&G be accused of opportunism, the ads and donations are extensions of one of the company’s oldest cause-related marketing programs, now in its fourth decade, which got its original impetus from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Because of Dawn’s longstanding relationship with leading wildlife rescue organizations, the International Bird Rescue and Research Center and the Marine Mammal Center, it has access to the animal rescue efforts near the disaster site that few news organizations have, so it began sending news flashes about the first bird rescues today via its Facebook fan page with more than 140,000 fans, and Twitter account, a newer effort with under 200 followers.

Dawn hasn’t made any plans to increase weight behind its current ad from Publicis Groupe’s Kaplan Thaler Group, New York, showing an oil-soaked bird being washed with dish soap, Ms. Baba said, but is considering adding a tag related to the Gulf disaster and directing people to Dawn’s Facebook page for more information.

The brand was already in the home stretch of a promotion launched last summer in which it donates $1 for every specially marked bottle of dish soap registered at The site, from Barefoot Proximity, Cincinnati, a unit of Omnicom’s BBDO, lists nearly $383,000 in donations so far, broken down by state and Canadian province.

Dawn donates soap to aid cleanups following every oil spill, as well as routinely to help rescue organizations clean birds fouled by less-publicized cases of oil seepage inland, Ms. Baba said. But outside of smaller, less publicized spills in the San Francisco Bay and near South Africa in recent years, nothing has approached the attention brought by this case since the Exxon Valdez, she said. In all, over the years, Dawn has been used to aid in the rescue of more than 60,000 animals since the 1980s.

Besides being timely, the wildlife effort, which the brand has promoted through a variety of TV, print, coupon and digital programs over the decades, is an almost perfect fit with brand equity, Ms. Baba said.

“The beauty of the [organization partnerships] even outside this particular incident is that it allows us to really communicate our product benefit in a way that’s meaningful,” she said. “Dawn is all about tough on grease, mild on skin. Trying to balance those two benefits is sometimes challenging. When you talk about a bird that has a really sensitive internal system but is also covered in this tough grease, it’s a really clear way of articulating our benefit to consumers.”