Amusement at Playout – bemusement at P&G

Amusement at Playout – bemusement at P&G
Left to right: JCDecaux UK digital screen and Jon Moeller, Procter & Gamble CEO.

Bob Wootton examines the new out-of-home verification system and Procter & Gamble’s new digital focus.


The UK’s out of home industry has finally agreed on and launched an ad tracking and verification system — Playout from Outsmart.

This made me smile. Whipped up by some big outdoor advertisers in my previous job at ISBA, I started to press the major outdoor companies for this kind of accountability in (about, it’s hazy) 1998.

This was resisted — it was a cost-add to the vendors that was only likely to lead to more inconvenient scrutiny of a then quite chaotic business.

In an early sign of how agency interests no longer aligned with clients’, nor did the outdoor specialists engage.

As is often the case when people don’t want to do something, we were told that we’d got the wrong end of the stick with this new internet thingy and that it couldn’t be done. These were after all still the early days of online.

But the turnkey moment was when a colleague discovered — online! — a small, regional billboard company’s own — online! — verification system.

A closed-user — online! — resource which showed current and past campaigns and their state of posting.

This small company, now long-defunct or absorbed, was as amazed that we’d found it as they were excited by our interest. With their help we took it to the media owners and their trade body.

It helped us persuade them to provide such verification for clients who requested it, albeit at individual contractor level only, so it was still a faff.

And in truth, our efforts were out of time as most advertisers’ demand for granular accountability was declining fast.  (“Vouching” of print ads, previously a prerequisite, had almost disappeared by the turn of the millennium).  So only a few grasped this minor “win”.

Hence my amusement that it’s now back. Out-of-home is performing strongly right now. Perhaps someone will use it this time?


But the biggest news, for me at least, comes from one of the oldest and biggest investors in advertising — the mighty Procter & Gamble.

Consciously or unconsciously, many in our industry owe this company a significant debt of gratitude.

Few businesses in the world have such a strong and longstanding belief in advertising. Whatever feelings you might have about historic household product comms, advertising is one of P&G’s biggest budget lines. Always has been.

It has long been respected as a loyal, decent, well-paying client (as well as feared as a demanding one). Its performance has spurred its competitors and had a positive, professionalising effect on those far beyond its direct employ.

Many of our top leaders cut their teeth on its account.

It’s been a determinedly strong and consistent supporter of commercial media from the off. Particularly TV, where it was the standard bearer for mass-targeting and the value of reaching non-customers as well.

But enough of the past.

Recently it declared that it now puts over half of its vast (more than $8bn) spend into digital channels to “drive consumer and customer preference, reduce cost and enable rapid and efficient decision-making”, according to CEO Jon Moeller, and “drive down the cost of effective reach”, according to CFO Andre Schulten.

Many in the C-suites of big business have discovered of the usefulness of referencing their advertising activities in updates to the stock markets. It’s arcane, easily dressed up, and analysts tend not to challenge it. Some, including Brian Jacobs suggest this might have distorted things. I’d agree.

P&G was respected for the experience and focus of the senior executives overseeing its media spend and engaging vigorously in relevant industry issues.

This expertise has been lost and the focus shifted, these tasks now falling to more generalist marketing (and procurement) staff.

It’s therefore perhaps not entirely surprising that such an upstanding advertiser is forging ahead in this way given the steadily rising tide of questions about the integrity — and sometimes even the legitimacy — of many online advertising platforms and channels.

Sadly, these seem to be mere nuances to the markets. As for our industry, when P&G makes these kind of pronouncements, it’s a big deal. One which others might likely take notice of and seek to emulate.

Bob Wootton spent 40 years working in advertising, first as a media buyer at some of the UK’s leading agencies  before joining the trade body ISBA in 1996, where he was advertising and media director for 20 years. He is also the founder of Deconstruction, a media and tech consulting business, and presents The Guitar Show on YouTube.

Adwanted UK is the trusted delivery partner for three essential services which deliver accountability, standardisation, and audience data for the out-of-home industry. Playout is Outsmart’s new system to centralise and standardise playout reporting data across all outdoor media owners in the UK. SPACE is the industry’s comprehensive inventory database delivered through a collaboration between IPAO and Outsmart. The RouteAPI is a SaaS solution which delivers the ooh industry’s audience data quickly and simply into clients’ systems. Contact us for more information on SPACE, J-ET, Audiotrack or our data engines.

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