2020 has been a year of reckoning and reevaluating priorities, not just for the American people, but for companies, too.
When the pandemic hit in March, the habits, needs and desires of consumers shifted overnight. And after the murder of George Floyd at the end of May, the subsequent movement that erupted forced brands to confront their own actions, and what they were doing to push for racial justice.
But just as consumers have been expecting more from brands, brands have been expecting more from the platforms they advertise on. During his address at this year’s ANA Masters of Marketing conference, Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble and chairman of the ANA board, announced that this week, the board had met with the digital platforms to “review plans and timelines for eliminating hateful content.” The issues that plague social media platforms—which led to an advertiser boycott of Facebook earlier this year—make up for “150% of our problems,” Pritchard said. A big number, particularly when social media makes up just 5% of the company’s ad spend.
“It’s astonishing that we’re still having this conversation,” Pritchard told Adweek following his talk. “For this still to be something that does not have the guardrails on it is stunning, and it shouldn’t be something that we have to be doing. If the industry doesn’t self-regulate, and that’s what governments could step in [to do], and you’re starting to see that in other parts of the world. So we better step up.”
Many brands ramped up the pressure on platforms, particularly Facebook, over the summer, with an advertiser boycott for the month of July. (P&G, notably, stayed quiet on whether or not it would join the boycott.)
“It’s a tactic, and, obviously, it got a lot of attention,” Pritchard said of the boycotts. “What is needed, though, is sustained action. The platform needed to be thinking about it, not just in one month, they needed to be thinking about over time.”
Issues with social media platforms weren’t the only problems that Pritchard spoke of during his talk. He also reiterated his belief that the industry needs to balance out the “uneven playing field” of the Upfronts. Pritchard has long been critical of the Upfronts process, and while he declined to say that the company would be bowing out of the Upfronts process entirely, he did say that P&G would continue to work directly with networks whenever possible, as well as moving more media into programmatic.
“At least then what we’re doing is operating on an exchange of information that is balanced, and allows us to create value together,” he said. “And we do it on our terms on timing versus on a contrived timing for the marketplace.”
For Pritchard, this year’s events have further proved what he’s long believed: that brands must “step up as a force for good and a force for growth,” and in particular, after 2020, that a company’s role in society “has been forever disrupted,” he said.
P&G, of course, has a history of activist-leaning advertising, thanks to campaigns like The Look and The Talk, which focus on the experiences Black people go through—having conversations about racism, in The Talk, and uncomfortable stares from others, in The Look.
“People are expecting more from companies,” Pritchard told Adweek after his ANA talk. “Now, it’s important that we as a company, we as brands, and we as an industry, really take the next step to step up for equality and inclusion. It’s absolutely essential now.”