By: Emily Bennett
The focus of Colgate’s first super bowl commercial in 2015 was not on toothpaste or any product related to Colgate, but rather a public service announcement that emphasized the effects that water conservation could have on the world and places around the world who don’t have any access to water. This campaign was based off of a Colgate ad that was originally created by Y&R Peru for the brand in Latin America, back in 2014. The company spent roughly $5 million on the 30 second commercial that aired in the second half right when viewers were preparing to go to bed.
The ad begins with a widescreen shot of a man in his bathroom, walking up to the sink, turning on the water and wetting his toothbrush. The ad then pans forward to zoom in on the running water that he left on. Then a set of dirty hands comes into the shot and uses the running water to clean off a piece of dirty fruit. Next, a new set of older hands enters the shot and fills up a bowl of water under the running faucet. The final set of hands is that of a dirty little girl who is quickly scooping the running water from the faucet into her mouth. The commercial then spans back out to the man brushing his teeth. The only sound throughout the commercial is the sound of running water and the man brushing his teeth.
In the commercial, the cleanliness of the bathroom and the initial male actor represent first world countries that don’t have to worry about wasting water. The use of whiteness is further emphasized as it represents the cleanliness of the water in addition to Colgate’s products. This is contrasted with numerous examples of darker hands frantically trying to get a piece of the running water. These sets of hands and especially the little girl, represent the less fortunate who use the leftover running water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking purposes. Clearly water is not a luxury to them. These icons represent third world countries and poorer families. Additionally, the bathroom is relatively simple to show that more likely than not, the average person has made the mistake of leaving the water running while brushing their teeth.
From a psychoanalytic approach, the emotional purpose of this commercial is to make viewers more conscientious about their decisions. Even though the commercial is only thirty seconds, the lack of sound and the text on the screen draw in your focus and present a guilt factor that accuses most people of being spoiled more than they could ever imagine. This commercial is intended to gain sympathy for those in third world countries and promote the idea that we could do so much good if we did just one simple task and turned off the water. The commercial is meant to make you feel bad about being wasteful and challenge you to do something about those feelings. The only sound in the commercial is the sound of the running faucet which again places a strong feeling of guilt over most individuals as it is something most of us hear on a daily basis.
— Colgate Smile (@Colgate) February 8, 2016
“Colgate isn’t the first company to turn their super bowl ad into a PSA. A year prior to this commercial, the NFL itself ran an ad against domestic violence, Budweiser ran an anti-drunk-driving ad with actress Helen Mirren, and the year before that, Always sponsored an acclaimed anti-sexism ad called “#LikeAGirl.” Colgate’s primary purpose of promoting this public message rather than to promote their product is an interesting method to grab the attention of its viewers. As a company, Colgate is focused on environmental sustainability and really aimed to emphasize the fact that water conservation is an important topic of discussion for their brand as a whole.
I personally believe Colgate’s commercial to be moving and touch upon important societal concerns, however some activists and critics argue that Colgate is being hypocritical. They challenged that the 5-million-dollar ad could have easily brought thousands of gallons of water to third world countries all over the world. Additionally, the ad focused primarily on our bad habits of letting the faucet run rather than highlighting how easy it is to merely turn off the faucet. Colgate typically “spends around 15 per cent of its advertising budget on digital but that figure as a proportion of its total spend is increasing, particularly in markets such as the US and UK.” Colgate-Palmolive’s chief marketing officer Nigel Burton added that Colgate-Palmolive will “up investment in innovation and spend on marketing campaigns to maintain that growth in the face of mounting competition.”
Colgate is in the brand building business and is ready to invest in whatever way necessary to keep their brand prevalent. This commercial was successful in bringing about discussion for not only their brand, but a global issue as well. That is a remarkable thing to do in 30 seconds.