John Smale—P&G’s Branding CEO
John Smale who died last Saturday had a major impact on branding strategy as the CEO of P&G during the 80s when he championed the advent of category management to address brand silo issues. The vaulted brand management system of P&G, given credit for the professionalization of branding, created problems with multiple brands within a category that competed with each other with overlapping positions. Worse, the allocation of technology and resources did not follow a coherent strategy. The solution, which was a major organizational change, was to have a category manager with the authority to coordinate the brands and make allocation decisions. This was indeed a major advance in the management of brands.
Smale had other notable achievements. He convinced the American Dental Association to put its seal on Crest toothpaste, thereby creating a new subcategory and dramatically changing the competitive landscape in the dentifrice category. As Chairman of GM in the 90s he is credited with leading a turnaround which was mired in a morass following a decade of disastrous strategy and operating decisions.
Smale makes a start contrast of styles to Steve Jobs. Like Steve Jobs he is credited with being inspiring, purpose driven, with a persistent commitment to the longer term. Unlike Jobs, however, he is described as caring and humble. Another example of how CEO different styles can work.
Smale, like any successful CEO, did not have all winners. His efforts in soft drinks, orange juice, and Olestra, a fat substitute that caused stomach problems in some (the case is described in my "Brand Relevance" book), all failed. Further, at GM, he pushed P&G brand management into a product set in which it did not work. Each of dozens of brands' car models tried to tie themselves to a unique segment and brand vision when the reality was that each was relevant to broad, overlapping segments. The result was a lot of effort that on-balance created confusion and misdirection.
However, as a change agent, a leader, and a developer of a major advance in branding, he is justifiably remembered as an outstanding executive.
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