Brand Citizens United

That my shampoo, lunch, toilet paper and vitamins may have been discussed in a single company’s annual meeting is something I both take for granted and otherwise bury as deeply as possible. It’s bizarre and uncomfortable: Conglomerate brand ownership makes for good trivia and bad thoughts.

The consumer conglomerates themselves don’t usually hide, exactly. General Mills isn’t worried that people will be shocked to discover that Hamburger Helper and Lucky Charms share a parent company. But Clorox doesn’t go out of its way to remind shoppers that Liquid-Plumr, Burt’s Bees and KC Masterpiece trade under the same ticker symbol. And you don’t see AB InBev posters in your local beer section, which stocks dozens of its local-seeming brands. People either have to find this out themselves, by looking it up, or make gradual inferences from grouped supermarket coupon deals. Otherwise these things are left unspoken.

Which is what makes Procter & Gamble’s New York ad campaign, “New York Tough,” especially strange.

This week, on one subway car, I saw “#NYStrong” ads for Febreeze, Bounty, Dawn and Crest, each with the “[BRAND] is tougher” construction. They did not say, in any easily visible way, “Procter & Gamble.” They were just there, unapologetically related in an unspecified way.

The first implication is: these products are made by the same company. The second: we no longer care that you know, this is a fact of modern capitalism, stop being a baby. I only saw a portion of the ad buy, apparently. There are similar ads around New York for Head & Shoulders, Pantene, Secret and Tide:

Ms. Erdahl is willing to say that it is “the first time we’ve done” a campaign of this kind, and it was inspired by the fact that “New Yorkers are among the most resilient and adaptable people you can find.”

“We aim to provide effective and efficient solutions to the everyday challenges New Yorkers face,” she says, which inspired the contents of the ads.

It’s a targeted campaign in that it makes jokes about specific New York neighborhoods, the smells and matter and character of which these products are equipped to deal with. It’s also a much broader advertisement against the idea that consolidated ownership—of the stuff that cleans your mouth, your floor, your dishes, your dog’s bed—is notable at all.