P&G’s top marketer on reclaiming advertising, accountability and boosting marketing’s standing

Marketing Week caught up with Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard at the recent Cannes Lions festival to discuss advertising fundamentals, the increasing need for accountability, programmatic trading and marketing’s business-wide influence.

Advertising can sometimes feel like a dirty word in an environment where world weary millennials are said to have rejected the traditional “push” method of communication, prompting many brands to think content and not advertising. The top marketer at one of the world’s biggest advertisers, however, is unapologetic about use of the word.

“Content is a word that is overused and under defined”, says Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble.

“It’s almost making advertising apologetic, and I feel completely the opposite.

“I love advertising, I am deeply proud of advertising, it’s important for us to fall back in love with advertising”

Marc Pritchard

So passionate about the fundamental purpose of advertising, Pritchard has taken the trouble to check the dictionary definition of the word to underline his point.  The meaning of the word “advert”, he says, is to “persuade” “entice” and “attract”.

“I think that is what we should spend our time focusing on, and be careful that we don’t think content doesn’t need to do any of those things, because if content is void of richness that gets you to turn towards the product of the service, it’s just content.”

Pritchard was talking to Marketing Week at the Cannes festival, where P&G won multiple Cannes Lions for two campaigns – “Like a Girl” for Always, which tackles the damage gender stereotypes can cause to pre-teen girls’ self-confidence and India’s “Touch the Pickle” for sanitary brand Whisper, which tackles taboos around menstruation.

Both, on the face of it, are primarily societal campaigns that fall under the “advertising without advertising” umbrella. Despite an obvious pride in their wider achievement, the latter campaign won the “Glass Lion: The Lion for Change”, an award for campaigns that address gender prejudice, Pritchard is quick to draw a line to the bottom line.

Speaking of the success of ‘Like a Girl’, which as well as raising awareness has also increased sales of the Always brand, he says the intention was to “open the heart and mind to learn more about Always”.

“They [consumers] know what ‘Like A Girl’ is and they want to know more about the product.”

The focus on sales is, of course, unsurprising given P&G’s status as a listed company and the challenges it currently faces. Sales and profitability have fallen 4% and 6% respectively in the fiscal year to date.

In order to boost effectiveness, it is increasingly focussing its media spend on digital. The company currently spends about a third of its outlay on digital channels and is currently in the middle of a global consolidation of agencies in a bid to save $500m in non-working media fees, some of which will be reinvested in marketing.

Pritchard says the company’s focus on digital is first about “ following the consumer” but acknowledges it can be more cost effective.

“The other benefit that it [digital] has is that it is more precise and you can get the same or more impressions for the same amount of money that you will invest, and you can save money as well.”

‘Programmatic and automation is inevitable’

Behind digital media, programmatic buying is also seen by many as a means to achieve more precise targeting at less expense and is a tool that Pritchard is enthusiastic about.

“Programmatic, in my view, is automated targeting capability for your media. I think programmatic and automation is inevitable.  Someone once told me that if it is inevitable to “get enthusiastic”, and we are pretty enthusiastic about this, it helps you be more precise about where you are targeting and ensure that you are not wasting advertising.”

Such tools have put an even sharper focus on marketing budgets with conversations about accountability, the need for marketers to improve their commercial acumen and better justify their investment becoming louder each year.

‘We welcome greater scrutiny’

Pritchard says P&G brand management has always been “very accountable” but accepts that the need for accountability has become even more pronounced in recent years.

“Over the past few years, part of our overall company productivity effort has become even more laser focused on ensuring that all of our marketing spending is even more productive.

“In the media world we have shifted more towards digital, which is more productive. In the non-media part of the world, how to get to a greater degree of efficiency, through agency and production spending and so, the accountability is very high.

“You are expected to get a return on your investment, which has driven sales and profit for the amount of money that you spend. I think that given the digital technology world, on a macro level, there has been a higher degree of scrutiny from an industry standpoint on marketing spending, which is something that we welcome.”

‘Create influence by creating value’

It is by welcoming this scrutiny as well as never losing sight on the fundamentals of brand building that Pritchard says will help marketers tackle another perennial challenge – influence in the boardroom.

“The way to create influence anywhere is to create value. [If you are] articulating and leading your brand, and creating a vision for that brand and figuring out how that brand is going to drive sales, drive profit and improve cash – that’s value creation.

“You will, therefore, have plenty of influence.”