P&G’s Marc Pritchard urges marketers to ‘go layers deeper’ to gain digital transparency

After making one of the most talked about speeches of the year, P&G’s Marc Pritchard is now encouraging the industry to work collaboratively to enforce change.

Marc Pritchard was absent from the recent list of “the world’s most influential CMOs” published by Forbes. Even if his impact on brand performance and awareness – two of the four criteria for inclusion –  could be questioned by the most critical of observers,  his “internal and external influence” and impact on peers, could not.

Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer cast a long shadow over the marketing world in January when he laid digital media’s failings bare in an incendiary intervention. It put media agencies, ad tech and others involved in the “murky supply chain” of kick-backs, insufficient viewability, ad fraud and suspect measurement, on a year’s notice to clean up their act and meet its new demands or the world’s biggest advertiser would take its money elsewhere.

READ MORE: P&G issues call to arms to ad industry over ‘antiquated’ media buying

This was not simply an evisceration. P&G’s commitment to a single viewability standard and implementing accredited third-party measurement verification resonated very loudly around the world.

Although not the first to voice such concerns – Unilever’s Keith Weed and trade bodies such as the Association for American Advertisers in the US have spoken out before – colourful adjectives and clear ultimatums grabbed the marketing world’s attention. It is safe to say that he is influential, despite his absence from the Forbes list.

Call to action

The reaction to the January speech swung from enthusiastic – Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson was moved to declare it the “biggest marketing speech in 20 years” – to considered, particularly among agencies in the supply chain.

Thinking back to his motivation for making the speech and the intended reaction, Pritchard says there was no single incident or lightbulb moment but a combination of factors that provoked him to enter the debate.

He tells Marketing Week: “I wanted to compel action and I wanted to do it in such a way that laid out the problem in as respectful a way as possible, but also as firm a way as possible, to indicate we have to make this change. It wasn’t to anyone, it was to all. And I tried to use our action plan as a way of [suggesting] this is an industry-wide issue that we need to deal with.”

It wasn’t just the marketing and media press or the ecosystem players in his target that reacted. Pritchard says he has been encouraged by the response of peers.

We have used this as an opportunity to put the same standards on digital media that we put on every other media.

Marc Pritchard, P&G

“I literally said this is our plan and you are more than welcome to take it. It’s encouraging that people were coming back and saying ‘thanks for that, that was a useful roadmap’, we’re going to do that and then they started making the same demands.”

He adds: “What I was surprised by – but it was a pleasant surprise – is the reaction of the industry. A lot of companies were appreciative that P&G stepped out and said things.”

Taking part in a panel at Cannes Lions earlier this month, Pritchard claimed the industry is about 40-50% there in cleaning up its act and he remains hopeful that by the end of the year it will have completed its mission.

READ MORE: P&G’s Marc Pritchard: We are 50% of the way to cleaning up digital

Collective effort

Pritchard says continued progress will only happen if it’s a collective effort. “When the industry takes the action, not any one but the whole takes action, to demand transparency, to demand brand safety, what happens is change occurs and it’s positive change.”

Online brand safety is an issue that was propelled into the spotlight in the spring, particularly in the UK when an investigation by The Times found ads from some of the biggest brands in the world were appearing next to content posted by terrorists on YouTube.

The channel’s owner Google has made several changes to allay brand’s concerns but many are still withholding budget until they are satisfied enough has been done.

Pritchard has been vocal on the responsibilities of publishers and agencies to protect brands, calling them to “step up” in an April speech.

He welcomes what Google has done to tackle the issue: “What has been important about this is they’re stepping up. They recognised the issue and they have been humble and been very active in trying to figure this out and we’re working with them very closely to try and make sure [of that].

“They have to keep going because it’s a big challenge but it’s important. We have used this as an opportunity to put the same standards on digital media that we put on every other media. We have worked with Google on what those standards are, and with Facebook, so we are clear on what’s OK and what’s not OK.”

The spotlight understandably shone on Google during the brand safety crisis, while serious questions were asked of media agencies and ad tech providers over transparency concerns.

We want mass reach with precision, which seems like an oxymoron but it’s exactly right.

Marc Pritchard, P&G

Pritchard’s speech and the spotlight on programmatic also prompted questions about marketers’ thirst for all things digital and the promise of data-driven micro-targeting. Were marketers blinded by the promise of the new and therefore failed to ask enough questions of their own?

Pritchard says the fact digital is “still a nascent business model” led to “experimentation and trying different things” but now is the time for marketers to ask more questions.

“Marketers are now saying we need to go layers deeper into exactly what we are getting. Is it producing the outcome that we want, how much can we strip out? We want mass reach with precision, which seems like an oxymoron but it’s exactly right.”

Allocating budgets

Asked whether digital’s promise of attribution leads to bad decisions when allocating budgets and a focus on tools of execution that claim to offer evidence of direct and speedy return, Pritchard says data should be used as “evidence you’re getting something” but that money should be spent where the brand is best served.

“In fact we have had some brands – Tide is probably one of our best examples in North America – which have done a lot of in-market testing where we get empirical sales evidence that our media mix is providing what it needs to be providing, which actually has moved to higher TV.”

Data and the opportunities it offers will be increasingly important for marketers to grasp but that should not be to the exclusion of the “right-brained” creative thinker. Both are necessary, Pritchard says.

He concludes: “You can no longer be a marketer that’s an advertising and media person, and you can’t be successful just as an analytical person. You have to be a blend of both. You need to be able to see the big picture and drill down to the small picture. Marketing today and into the future mean you have to be increasingly well rounded.”