P&G is not the only big advertiser in the world. There are plenty of others with billion dollar budgets who could change the market by threatening to vote with their dollars. But they didn’t and at a superficial level that’s troubling.
One reason why other companies have fought shy of this fight is the scale of the challenge. Speaking to Gerry D’Angelo, the company’s new Global Media Director, at the recent Festival of Media Global in Rome, he explained that he was part of a cross-functional team from around the world.
P&G’s public statements have had a strong element of ‘call to collective action’ about them and Gerry echoed this at the Festival of Media. No one could stand back and simply wait for P&G to “sort it out.” At various moments in our on-stage conversation in front of 700 Festival delegates, he said: “we are not leading,” “get involved” and “you have a fiduciary duty.”
However, it’s noticeable that even P&G took seven months for the company to absorb the ANA’s Media Transparency reports and go public with its demands for change.
Even then it hasn’t suggested anything outrageous. Under scrutiny, you’ll see there’s little in the P&G Media action plan that is especially innovative, nothing recommended would be considered anything more than sensible housekeeping and good practice, in fact there were those who criticized the plan for not going far enough.
So why haven’t other brands followed, privately or at least publicly? When the ANA reports were first published, we anticipated a more immediate reaction from US advertisers, but we also understand that the implications would take time to sink in. Marketers for all their pizzazz can be cautious, particularly where they don’t know how an issue is going to play out.
Re-doubling those cautious instincts is a niggling concern amongst marketers that admitting there is a problem, even privately internally, might lead to some form of competitive disadvantage.
However, if any media agencies or vendors were thinking that brands were going to go back to business as usual, that would be wrong. Lack of public action doesn’t not mean apathy for three reasons.
First our experience is that brands are not ignoring this. They are paying very close attention, taking notes and preparing their organizations to activate similar actions for their businesses.
Second, what’s holding some advertisers back is that they have been missing the senior media leadership internally that can start to implement this kind of work. If a CMO has been concerned by the ANA reports and/or inspired by P&G’s leading role, they then have to ask who they can ask internally to implement the change.
The ANA report highlighted the lack of media understanding in many companies and even some of the biggest brands don’t have a media director with the right experience and temperament to work with cross-functional internal teams and all media partners from agencies through to tech and vendors. We anticipate a continued trend to hire experienced media executives in a Chief Media Officer mold.
Until you have those in play, brands can be somewhat paralyzed and reluctant to change.
Finally, what we see is a little bit of wait and see. Although P&G wants others to get involved, they probably realize that they are driving alone down this road for the time being.
Brands will want to see how the complex media supply chain reacts to P&G’s demands and if the world’s biggest advertiser really will "vote with their dollars" and pull money from vendors who refuse third-party measurement verification, for example.
They wonder whether P&G will actually make progress on ad fraud and whether it will achieve 100% transparency and full rebate pass-back from their agency contracts, many of them currently under review in Europe.
The industry will be hoping for detailed updates from P&G over the next 12 months, to help them answer these questions but anyone with an understanding of media knows that P&G has bitten off a lot.
The company knows how influential their actions and statements are to an industry often looking for clarity and leadership in an era of endless complexity and the echo chamber of repetitive anecdotal advice and a stat for everything.
When P&G’s Chief Brand Officer Mark Pritchard stood up to make his now infamous IAB speech in January, he probably knew what was going to happen. He could have devised this action plan internally, kept it secret and possibly had more ease in implementing it away from the glare and scrutiny of the industry spotlight.
Ultimately however, he and his team decided there was a bigger benefit and bigger interest in this. He may also have been encouraged to make that choice by his new responsibility as Chair of ANA but ultimately P&G is walking alone, for now at least.
Whether apathy or caution, no marketer should rely on P&G to sort out everyone’s challenges. Sooner or later, everyone will have to take action. As Gerry said in Rome “this stuff’s not really a spectator sport…get off the bench and on to the field of play and get involved.”