Here’s What P&G Has Learned Since Demanding Advertising Transparency 9 Months Ago

Marc Pritchard says companies are stepping up

20 percent of P&G's digital ads are viewed for two seconds or more. Getty Images
Headshot of Lauren Johnson

COLOGNE, GERMANY—Nine months into P&G chief brand officer Marc Pritchard’s mandate to clean up digital transparency, the company is beginning to see some signs that it’s working. It’s also tackling bigger issues like gender equality and corporate responsibility.

Pritchard presented a look at his five-point program during the closing keynote of Dmexco, restating that the program is about 60 percent complete and saying he believes it will be 100 percent complete by the end of the year. That means he likely will not need to act on his ultimatum of pulling ad spend from companies that do not abide by the rules he outlined in January, but he urged marketers to continue to hold partners accountable.

“To be clear, we all must stay diligent to get it done and keep the standards high going forward,” he said. “These are frankly commonsense steps, long overdue and necessary for a clean and productive media-supply chain.”

Pritchard began his keynote by talking about why P&G and other companies are asking for more to be done with their advertising while brands struggle to grow.

“Despite spending an astounding $600 billion a year in marketing, our collective industries still aren’t growing enough, holding stubbornly onto low, same-digit growth—you might say never has so many done so much for so little,” Pritchard said. “We’re raising the bar on everything we do and especially brand building and using digital technology every step of the way.”

Cleaning up digital ads

Most notable among ad-tech and digital players are Pritchard’s qualms about third-party measurement, fraud, viewability and brand safety.

“The reality is that in 2017, the bloom came off the rose for digital media,” Pritchard said. “The reason is the substantial waste in what has become a murky, nontransparent, even fraudulent media-supply chain.”

Speaking of viewability, which measures whether people see ads, Pritchard said P&G has pushed out 30-seconds ads for digital for too long, “treating it like television.”

P&G’s data has shown that the average ad is viewed for 1.7 seconds and that only 20 percent of ads are viewed for two seconds, the minimum standard for viewability, according to the Media Rating Council. So, the company stopped spending money to run 30-second digital ads.

“What this did was raise a deeper question for us: If you look at it through the lens of the consumer, just how valuable are these ads?” Pritchard said. “We can make a two-second ad work, and we do, but surely we can do better than that.”

Pritchard said his company is working with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and WeChat to create short, interesting ads.

The CPG giant is also revamping its programmatic advertising to reduce waste, cutting down on frequency and only serving ads “when someone is receptive.” P&G’s previous efforts with programmatic saved $200 million over five years but found that too few consumers were served repeat ads.

Pritchard called out some interesting work Pampers has done around artificial intelligence within Google searches. The first time a mom searches for information about pregnancy, for instance, she’ll be served info on the Pampers Rewards program. From there, answers to questions can include Pampers products, and consumers are served themed videos on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Then there’s Amazon and Alibaba, which control a significant amount of ecommerce.

“We’re also teaming up with ecommerce players like Amazon and Alibaba so that we can use their unique consumer ID data and reach consumers precisely when they’re ready to buy,” Pritchard said. “This is accelerating our ecommerce business, which is already $3 billion, growing 30 percent a year, and eight of our ten categories are building market share. But what it’s also doing is cutting waste by 20 percent and improving ROI four times.”

Brand safe cat videos

When YouTube’s brand boycott happened in March, P&G cut more than $100 million in ads because it couldn’t be sure they weren’t running alongside objectionable content.

“This was one of the most unpleasant wake-up calls of 2017,” Pritchard said. “We have zero tolerance for ads running on inappropriate content.”

More interestingly, he said, “this little time-out caused us to look more closely at all of the content,” even popular cat videos.

“If you’re watching a cat video, do you really want to see a toothpaste ad?” Pritchard said. “Now the conversation is shifting from brand safety to raising the bar on quality content for quality placements.”

For example, P&G is working with YouTube to find the best channels to advertise on, including YouTube’s recently launched original programming.

Advertising for good

Pritchard spent the last portion of his keynote softening the blow on digital media companies a bit and calling on marketers to step up their efforts with sustainability, diversity and ethics.

“Digital technology has been the catalyst for enabling us to express our point of view far more effectively and far more broadly,” he said. “Online video has given us the freedom to tell more compelling stories and convey important messages that you can’t do in 30 seconds.”

Take Always’ ongoing #LikeAGirl campaign that champions equality and confidence. Now in its sixth iteration and with a small amount of paid media, the campaign has amassed 550 million views and 25 billion PR impressions. Moreover, 76 percent of consumers see the expression “Like a girl” as positive compared with 19 percent before the campaign launched.

“That’s the transformational power that digital technology has given brands, the power for all brands to use their voice in advertising as a force for good and a force for growth,” Pritchard said.

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.