Powerful New Docuseries Activate Takes on the World’s Problems, With Backing by P&G

Global Citizen helped create the National Geographic series

activate docuseries p&g national geographic global citizen
The series features celebrity advocates working on issues personal to them.
National Geographic

Procter & Gamble, one of the world’s largest advertisers, is continuing its mission to be “a force for good” with a new docuseries in partnership with National Geographic and Global Citizen to highlight some of the most pressing issues facing the world.

The six-episode series, called Activate, takes on a range of humanitarian and environmental crises spotlighted by celebrities as well as activists, and begins airing on Thursday on the National Geographic channel.

Most, if not all, of the brands under P&G’s wide-reaching umbrella are aligned with a cause, making it a central focus of their marketing. Period products brand Always, for example, is famous for its female empowerment-driven “Like a Girl” advertisements, while laundry detergent Tide has worked on disaster relief as far back as Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Hugh Jackman in the Activate series
National Geographic

Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer for P&G, said National Geographic and Global Citizen approached P&G a few years ago about partnering on a series that would spotlight major global issues and inspire people around the world to take action. Pritchard said it was a natural fit, largely because P&G views taking on these philanthropically fueled projects as necessary, given the company’s massive scale.

“Our brands and our company have a responsibility to be both a force for good, and a force for growth,” he told Adweek. “Our advertising has an effect on how people view the world, so we view it as an obligation to ensure that we are, even in just advertising, making sure that we have an accurate and realistic portrayal of women and girls, race and ethnicity, so we can change bias.”

“We care about how to drive impact for the world’s poor, and so if there’s a way to leverage the power of a brand’s media and marketing reach to do this, not by displacing charitable money but in addition to it, then that’s a win-win,” added Hugh Evans, co-founder and CEO of Global Citizen. “Global Citizens care deeply about brands being leaders on social issues, not just as lip service but as a way of doing business.”

Meet the starpower behind critical issues

The series will include six episodes, each one focusing a different issue: The premiere episode tackles eradicating global poverty, while future ones will take on ending plastic pollution, providing clean water across the globe, fight to end cash bail and keeping girls in school, among other topics. All the episodes feature celebrity appearances including Hugh Jackman, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Rachel Brosnahan, Gayle King, Pharrell Williams and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, as well as representatives from Global Citizen, organizations like the United Nations and P&G.

A promotional poster for the Activate series

The episodes focus on the work these people are doing—in partnership with Global Citizen—to solve these issues. That work often includes trips to places hardest hit by these crises, such as Orange Is the New Black actress Uzo Aduba traveling to Nigeria to urge the government to promise state funds for cleaning up the country’s drinking water, or Brosnahan visiting Peru to see the real-life consequences of natural disasters.

Having partners like National Geographic allows P&G to not only harness its creative and editorial talent for the series, but also its reach: The series will air on National Geographic in 172 different countries, translated into 43 languages. In fact, all three organizations bring a different skillset to the table.

“We do what we do well, and they do what they do well,” Pritchard said. “And what they do well is they tell epic stories, and are able to shine the light on major issues.”

Pritchard added that P&G didn’t push National Geographic to include its own efforts on these issues in the stories. Instead, P&G experts offered their perspectives to make the stories more complete. “We simply tell them what we’re doing about it and let them then decide what is the best way, if at all, to include what we’re doing,” he said. “But it’s really up to them to tell the story. We provide our expertise, and they take it from there.”

How P&G is reinventing brand building

Activate is the latest example of P&G’s ramped-up efforts in content-first marketing. Just within the past six months, the CPG giant has opened two short films at the Tribeca Film Festival in partnership with Queen Collective, a program spearheaded by longtime P&G partner Queen Latifah that offers resources and opportunities to young and diverse female filmmakers. And this summer, P&G dropped the Timelines series featuring Katie Couric that showcased the pressures women face around hitting milestones at certain ages with for luxury skincare brand SK-II.

These efforts are a major part of P&G’s goal to “reinvent brand building,” according to Pritchard: going beyond traditional advertising to bring a brand’s message and mission to consumers in a way they might not traditionally expect.

“We’re really looking to disrupt how brands are built in a constructive way,” he said. “We as a business have the money to invest in changing our advertising to make sure that that is not biased. We have the money to invest in solutions to end things like plastic waste, to create recyclable innovations and those sort of things. And so it really has become part of how we do business.”

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