Theory Meets Practice at P&G

A couple of weeks ago Procter and Gamble made a public admission. Their media planning approach was wrong, they had seen the error of their ways and were going to do something about it.

This is both more and less sensational than it might appear.

Less, as what Procter actually said was that their use of Facebook was not working. They had bought into the digital story of precision targeting and had discovered the hard way that for brands like theirs broad reach is generally a good thing.

More, as presumably that principle presumably doesn’t apply only to money spent with FB. Procter, one of if not the smartest marketer out there had it seems been mistaken in believing the precision targeting argument.

‘Search for reach’ was an old Coca-Cola media planning mantra, recognising as it does that once you have a brand of such mass awareness and such broad appeal then reaching as many people as possible as much of the time as possible constitutes a smart strategy.

What is odd about the P&G story is that either Procter or their agencies (or both) seem to have cast aside one of the planks on which the company’s huge success has been built.

P&G has always believed in advertising’s role in building a successful business. Within that the Company maintained several core philosophies, one of which might be summarised as work out what works then do more of it.

Broad reach and continuity were always a core philosophy on how advertising works for them, and I suspect that is still the case.

Anyone who ever spent any time working on the P&G media business (I had 14 of the best professional years doing just that) will tell you that the Company never leaves any stone unturned in the search for an edge.

Tests and experimentation were common place, supported by a keen interest in the theory of how advertising works.

All of which makes this FB story weird as both the theory of successful brand advertising, and the practice as evidenced over and over by Procter point in a similar direction.

In 2010 Professor Byron Sharp wrote a book called ‘How Brands Grow’ in which he concluded (and I summarise drastically) that brands needed to reach as many people as possible as often as possible to succeed.

A useful slideshow summary and critique of Professor Sharp’s findings is here.

So Professor Sharp and the Procter experience seem to be in violent agreement.

So why deviate from the core principle when it comes to Facebook?

First, of course Procter buy more media forms than just FB and overall performance matters more than the results from one media channel. But then again, if the broad reach is there, why apparently ignore it?

There is also the nagging question that maybe the issue is less about how to use Facebook, and more whether Facebook, in any shape or form can work at all for brands like P&G’s?

Naturally P&G say they are committed to continuing to use FB. No doubt a deal commitment is behind that decision.

The thought also occurs that just maybe that deal commitment was made by P&G’s ex-media agency. ‘Ex’ being the key part of that descriptor.


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