Big CPG brands are increasingly looking like tech companies as they seek to disrupt their own businesses.

The last demonstration of this was a significant one: for the first time ever, CPG giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) exhibited at CES, which has historically been a favorite launching pad for tech and consumer electronics companies.

At the mega-expo, P&G debuted a number of connected products, including:

  • An AI-powered skincare analysis and recommendation platform called Olay Skin Advisor.
  • The Oral-B Genius X toothbrush, which employs AI to analyze how individuals brush their teeth to provide personalized feedback.
  • A GilletteLabs Heated Razor designed to deliver “the pleasure of a hot towel shave with every stroke” through the presence of a warming bar that heats up in less a second.
  • The Opté Precision Skincare System that is capable of detecting hyperpigmentation and applying corrective serum to the skin in a precise manner by employing camera optics, proprietary algorithms and printing technology.
  • A “smart home fragrance system” called AIRIA, which allows users to fill a defined space with a scent ambiance.

OlaySkinAdvisor_1

P&G says that it wants to “improve everyday life” for consumers around the globe and as its CES premiere demonstrates, today that often involves using technology to re-imagine how existing products function, or creating new kinds of products that take advantage of technology that didn’t exist years
ago.

Making toothbrushes and razors sexy again

While most of the products CPG brands sell are the epitome of “unsexy”, P&G’s new connectedproducts are evidence of the fact that even the unsexiest of products are being touched by technological disruption.

As the company’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard explained, “We’re living in a time of mass disruption, where the exponential power of technology combined with shifting societal and environmental forces are transforming consumer experiences every day.”

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In response to this mass disruption, Pritchard says that “P&G is integrating cutting-edge technologies into everyday products and services to improve people’s lives. We’re combining what’s needed with what’s possible. By answering the question, ‘what if,’ we’re delivering irresistibly superior consumer experiences.”

P&G Chief Research, Development and Innovation Officer, Kathy Fish added that P&G is “combining more than 180 years of capability with the entrepreneurial spirit of a lean startup.” She says that P&G istaking its deep understanding of consumer behavior, something that has been a hallmark of the company’s operations, and applying “breakthrough science and technologies” to “deliver transformative innovations.”

While there’s no guarantee that the connected products P&G is launching will be successful – the company even acknowledges that it’s “creating the products consumers want, often before they even know they want them” – its innovation-focused approach is almost certainly going to be the norm in the
industry in the near future.

To date, much of the disruption CPG businesses have faced has been the result of business model innovation. For example, direct-to-consumer (DTC) startups like Dollar Shave Club, which Unilever purchased for $1bn, have found ways to disrupt incumbents by offering consumer products at a lower cost and/or through different purchasing models, such as subscriptions.

But the next big wave of disruption is likely to involve consumer products that are smart and connected, meaning that if behemoths like P&G are to fend off competition from smaller but nimbler upstarts, they’re going to have to invest heavily in true product innovation.

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