‘Marketer of the Year’ Marc Pritchard on his quest for transparency

P&G’s marketing boss was given the title at Marketing Week’s Masters of Marketing awards last night, but he wants to avoid personal glory and focus on driving transparency and growth for the industry at large.

Looking back over 2017 so far it is hard to think of a marketer that has made as big an impact as Procter & Gamble’s marketing chief Marc Pritchard. Since making his already seminal marketing speech on media transparency in January, he has galvanised the digital media industry to change by forcing Google and Facebook to listen to the demands of marketers.

It is therefore not surprising that he was crowned ‘Visionary Marketer of the Year’ at Marketing Week’s Masters of Marketing awards last night (3 October). He was up against some stiff competition, but in the end the jury was in agreement that Pritchard had led the industry and its attempts to improve transparency.

But what led him to speak out? It’s the question on everybody’s lips as Pritchard speaks at the Dmexco ad tech conference in Germany.

Pritchard is back at the conference for the first time in four years and says given the growth of the digital media industry this felt like the right time to return. Yet many in the audience would have been listening with some trepidation; ad tech vendors and agencies are some of the companies most impacted by his complaints of a “murky” media supply chain and lack of transparency.

Pritchard is quick to dismiss the idea that he doesn’t like digital media. When he took over as P&G’s marketing boss from Jim Stengel in 2008, he estimates the company was spending around 2% of its budget on digital. It is now one of its biggest media outlays. The move was necessitated, Pritchard says, by the movement of consumers to online platforms.

However, he admits P&G believed the myths around digital and did not do enough on standards and measurements. That is until around 18 months ago when he noticed an alarming pattern.

If we can galvanise everybody on certain actions [by speaking out], the whole industry gets better. And that’s good for all of us.

Marc Pritchard, P&G

“Around March last year, what we had been seeing across a number of brands was ROI declining, cost of digital media was going up. As we were raising the bar on our capability, we needed to make sure we improved our media reach because we were realising the reach had actually come down,” he explains.

Unsure what was going on he went to Google and Facebook to try to work it out. What he needed was more data, but the digital players were not forthcoming.

“We talked to all the digital players and said we need more transparency in terms of viewability, reach, frequency and so forth. And the data just wasn’t there. So we said alright, but we need to see it. But a few months later it still isn’t there. So that was October. Come December I still don’t have the data and I was getting a little annoyed at this point that it wasn’t forthcoming.”

Cleaning up digital becomes a priority

All of this coincided with Pritchard becoming chairman of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). And so with his dual hats on he decided to make cleaning up the digital ecosystem a priority. When he was asked to speak at the IAB’s annual conference in January, he saw this as as the perfect opportunity.

“There was a lot of talk [about the issues]. We’d had almost a year of talk and no action and I decided that it was probably appropriate for me, as the ANA chair and CMO of the world’s largest advertiser, I thought why don’t I just put the action plan out there,” he explains.

“Marketers had been waxing on eloquently about the problems and I had lost patience with the talking and wanted to get the action points out there.”

That speech has, as Pritchard hoped, acted as a catalyst for change. Just hours before his talk at Dmexco, Facebook revealed it was updating its standards to put them in line with Pritchard’s demands. Google too has been working to improve transparency, implementing new rules around brand safety and viewability.

P&G Marc Pritchard

Pritchard describes the progress as encouraging, and says Facebook and Google have “properly stepped up”. He estimates around 60% of the work he called for in January is now done (up from 50% in June), and he expects the majority of it to be complete by his self-imposed deadline of January 2018.

Yet Pritchard is reluctant to see this as a personal triumph. He admits to being “surprised” at the reaction and pleased that it struck a chord with marketers. But he remains focused on its benefits to the industry.

“Where the responsibility comes is in being the world’s largest advertiser and even more importantly having 65 brands, most of which are either number one or two in their categories reaching five billion people on the planet every day, many times a day. That does carry some responsibility, but it also carries some opportunity,” he says.

“If we can galvanise everybody on certain actions [by speaking out], the whole industry gets better. And that’s good for all of us. Market growth is good for everyone.”

Reaping the rewards

P&G is already reaping the rewards through a better understanding of digital marketing. Pritchard says the moves by Facebook and Google have opened up new data and ways of working that are already improving P&G’s digital marketing.

For example, P&G now knows that an average view for one of its video ads is just 1.7 seconds, with only 20% watching for more than two seconds, and so it has shifted its focus away from putting 30-second TV ads on social media platforms.

“A lot of our ads on digital are now two seconds because that’s about what people are willing to spend their time on,” he explains. “[To get your message across] you’ve got to make sure your iconic brand assets appear. So the Tide bullseye, or the Gillette blue and the flexball or the Always script. Those are things that people recognise and they’re familiar with them so that has to show up. Many of the two second ads are essentially reminders.”

Marketers had been waxing on eloquently about the problems and I had lost patience with the talking and wanted to get the action points out there.

Marc Pritchard, P&G

P&G has also had a rethink about where its ads appear. While the industry was shocked by The Times investigation, which revealed Google ads were appearing next to unsavoury content from people including terrorists and white supremacists, Pritchard half-jokes he is now questioning how many cat videos it needs its ads appearing alongside.

READ MORE: Google under fire as brands pull advertising and ad industry demands action

“Brand safety is a tech challenge, which his why rather than trying to catch it on the backend we’ve shifted the conversation to quality content on the front end. There are terrorist videos, then cat videos, then original programming. I’d like to go over to more of the premium and less of the cats.”

Next steps

Having shaken up the digital ad space in 2017, what comes next? Pritchard sees this as the end of the first wave of digital transformation; the second will be the move to mass one-to-one marketing.

“2017 was a wake-up call. Because the digital media we had grown up with turned 21 and that wave of transformation was completing,” he says.

“But now we have to move to the next level, raise the bar on that part of the process and ecosystem and move to mass one-to-one marketing, which is the next generation and is now possible because of artificial intelligence and big data.”

READ MORE: Is digital an effective mass market medium?

And as part of his next rallying cry, he is calling on marketers to step up their marketing efforts by putting sustainability, ethics and diversity at the heart of what they do.

“Digital technology has been the catalyst for enabling us to express our point of view far more effectively and far more broadly,” he concludes. “Online video has given us the freedom to tell more compelling stories and convey important messages that you can’t do in 30 seconds.”

“That’s the transformational power that digital technology has given brands, the power for all brands to use their voice in advertising as a force for good and a force for growth.”

That is the legacy that Pritchard hopes to leave behind. One of marketers driving global growth and using their voice for good. His speech was just a means to that end.