Following Procter and Unilever

Over the last few weeks we’ve heard the views of two of the largest advertisers on the planet on the current state of the media and advertising businesses.

We can condense their thoughts. Marc Pritchard of Procter made a famous speech at the IAB just over a year ago in which he laid out the framework for a more transparent, honest and open relationship with his agencies, and with the online media platforms with whom he advertises.

Keith Weed, in the corresponding IAB forum this year talked of how Unilever wouldn’t spend money with those “platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate”.

Finally, at the ISBA Conference last week Marc Pritchard had words for the agencies on how they should organise and run their businesses, removing layers of account people and focussing more resources on improving and driving creativity.

Most would have little problem with the base messages. Transparency? Tick. Not supporting hate? Tick. More creativity? Tick.

But delivering to these principles in practice is another thing. Pritchard is said to be rowing back on some of his stronger comments on withholding advertising from the major platforms unless they keep to his demands for (amongst other things) open-ness in data access.

Weed’s comments on ‘platforms or environments’ could be said to apply as much to certain UK newspapers, like ‘The Daily Mail’ as to the darker corners of YouTube or Facebook. And – he did say ‘platforms’, in the generic.

Finally, as was pointed out here the doing away of account people has been tried, and didn’t work too well, not least because good account people in creative agencies make a considerable contribution to improved output.

Once the aura of congratulations and the warm feeling engendered in interviews have faded where will all this leave us?

Will Procter tell their marketing teams globally to focus their efforts more on ensuring their agency teams have more space to focus on creativity – after all to paraphrase Bob Hoffman the P&G agencies would no doubt be prepared to do away with those ‘brand babblers’ working exclusively on the P&G business if their client did the same within their own organisation. No-one is going to miss pointless meetings although it would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when the first P&G agency refuses to attend a meeting on the basis that it would add nothing to creativity.

How will the Unilever planning agencies define ‘promoting anger and hate’? Or for that matter ‘protecting our children’? Will they apply those same definitions to newspapers? To magazines? To TV dramas? In practice, how exactly will that work unless the agencies have some brilliant crystal ball way of predicting what media outlets are going to say or include before they say it?

And – with one man’s anger being another’s freedom of expression where’s the line separating a free press from advertiser coercion to be drawn?

It is without question a positive thing for top marketers to call out bad practices within the media. But fine words butter no parsnips as my dear old mother used to say.

Words and deeds; words and deeds.


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