Saying and Doing

A week or two ago, Marc Pritchard, Procter and Gamble’s Chief Brand officer took to the ANA stage to give a keynote speech. He chose to call this ‘Resetting the Bar’; you can find the article he published to go alongside his remarks here.

The whole speech / article struck me as odd, not so much resetting as regressing, at least as far as the media components are concerned.

I should say at this point that it is no great exaggeration to state that I owe my career in large part to Procter and Gamble. I worked on the business in the UK, and then globally at Leo Burnett; the CEO at Aegis who subsequently hired me was ex-P&G and my experience certainly did me no harm. They taught me more than any other advertiser with whom I’ve worked.

When Burnett first won the business, from what was then Y&R, in the early 1980’s, I remember having a drink with the other Procter agency Media Directors. As the new boy I said I found the whole business overwhelming, weird even.

Procter had their own language of acronyms, their own TV deals, their own rules and guidelines. I admit I struggled in the early weeks.

John Perriss, the Saatchi Media Director described them to me as the ‘best client in the world’. To paraphrase him,: ‘They believe in advertising, they’re fair, they’re highly professional and ethical; they believe in paying their agencies top dollar for the best people. They spend a load; they pay on time. They’re loyal to their agencies. They’re the best’.

I remember thinking John had drunk too much of the Kool-Aid.

I learnt; he was 100% right.

There was and is something else about Procter. They saw themselves then and I suspect they still see themselves as leaders of the industry, as having a responsibility to speak up for advertisers.

They never used to talk publicly, but their support of ISBA, and the various industry bodies and JICs was impressive if understandably self-interested. P&G got what P&G needed because P&G turned up.

Nowadays they talk a lot more in public – which is a good thing – and Marc Pritchard is much in demand on platforms, understandably.

You just know there’s a BUT coming…

I have a sense that today they talk more and do less.

In 2017, at a similar event, Pritchard made what Mark Ritson called ‘The most important marketing speech of recent times.’ The Cog Blog summarised it here.

There was much talk of insisting on Facebook etc introducing objective measurement and verification. Of keeping to MRC standards. Of cutting out the inefficiency of all those middlemen involved in online buying.

Procter introduced a boycott of some of the social media platforms soon after. Most shrugged and just carried on with business as usual. I don’t think that boycott is still in place.

Today, what are the biggest issues facing the advertising media business? Fraud, certainly. Hate speech? Lack of editorial control over online media platforms? Lack of truthfulness? Political interference in investigative reporting?

How many of these issues does Marc cover in his 2023 speech?

As far as I can tell (I wasn’t there and have only read the article) the answer is none.

Instead, he talks of understanding consumers more, increasing reach, reducing excessive frequency, ensuring more of a focus on advertising effectiveness, and working more productively.

None of these things are unimportant, but are they really the most important issues of the day? They sound a bit 1980s to me, updated with the latest in personalisation, creative diversity, and a few attention metrics.

The ad business is facing many huge issues. How we tackle them is a subject for much debate and discussion. The blurring of the line between interference in editorial matters, and supporting responsible journalism (well done GroupM for their Back to News initiative) is but one example.

Ad fraud, which remains rampant throughout the programmatic ecosystem and appears to be largely ignored by the ANA, whose latest pronouncements couldn’t even agree on an estimate of the size of the problem, remains a massive drain on marketing budgets.

These are the sorts of issues where an advertiser like P&G can truly provide leadership. Not everyone will agree with whatever they say, but just by speaking out they would aid discussion and debate.

And that would be a great thing; if rather more controversial than maximising reach.

  1. Brian, indeed, read the speech with a similar take. No action on your issues (fraud & short-termism). Also, brand value destroyed, talk no action on social equity (food in UK) & climate goals (producers in dev nations). Industry will not change, needs to be shocked from outside.

  2. Hi Stewart and thanks for the comment.
    I do think that generally our industry bodies could do a lot more to encourage action on some of these issues. The ANA’s position on ad fraud is one example where more could be done – even talking more about the issue would help!
    There are always good reasons not to do something.
    Procter do a lot more than most – but I think they could do more to push the no doubt good internal things they’re doing on some of the issues I raised. Thus leading by example.

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