An ill-advised alliance & cross-media measurement pinch-points

An ill-advised alliance & cross-media measurement pinch-points

Bob Wootton warns P&G of cosying up to the Chinese and discusses two potential pitfalls for Project Origin

Forget back to the office (or not). It is panic stations in online marketing. Or at least some frenzied paddling under an outwardly serene surface.

Procter & Gamble (P&G) is reported to have linked with “dozens of Chinese trade groups and tech firms” to develop ways of circumventing Google and Apple’s very significant (and dare I suggest very welcome) decisions to block third-party cookies from tracking users.

This is not a good look for the world’s biggest marketer.

It has long realised that marketing is fundamental to its business(es) and taken a very keen interest in where and how it spends its money.

For years, it was the brunt of disdain for its formulaic, American-style ads, which gave main competitor Unilever something to tilt at. But it listened, saw the error of its certain ways and became a respected and sometimes awarded advertiser.

Not only a massive spender, P&G is known for being fiercely demanding but fiercely loyal, a combination that agencies understandably find appealing in these fickle days of project-based appointments.

The days when it literally used to shadow and duplicate its agencies’ media buys may be long gone, but it still casts a long shadow, actively participating in trade associations around the world, speaking at events and judging awards.

P&G’s call for greater transparency from media agencies in the wake of the US Association of National Advertisers’ report in 2015 has since evolved into a wider call as concerns around the notoriously murky programmatic advertising supply chain have surfaced and grown exponentially.

This fits well with its (and many other corporates’) quest to assert “purpose” alongside profitability across a wide raft of issues and campaigns, all of which plays well with the stock markets, which (to date) seldom follow-up on the outcomes and longer-term impacts of such pronouncements.

By contrast, China is now being progressively ostracised for everything from expansionism, human rights, espionage and cyber-disruption to its long-standing speciality, flagrant plagiarism.

Cosying up to the Chinese doesn’t sit at all well. A very bad move, best reversed quickly, lest another great household brand is tainted.

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P&G is also a leading light in cross-media measurement initiatives, globally through the World Federation of Advertisers’ principles and in ISBA’s Project Origin.

It’s a testament to our global leadership in matters marketing that the UK will be the first test-bed for such an initiative.

However, some regular readers have picked up my hesitancy from two decades representing advertisers on all the UK’s media audience research bodies.

For me, there are two critical pinch-points:


The whole conceit is to give advertisers more information and more control over their media activity, and most specifically the contribution of reach.

Historically, they saw media research as something whose cost should be borne in large part by the media owners selling space and time, and in smaller part by the agencies taking commissions on such transactions.

So advertisers hardly contributed at all. Low cost, granted, and some small influence but no absolute control.

To achieve the step change they seek, they will have to become more or less equal participants. This space is an expensive one to play in properly – current UK media audience research rigours cost more than £50 million each year.

The only time I ever saw advertisers moved collectively to put their hands in their pockets was when their airtime pricing was threatened by a combined ITV in 2003.

Three voluntary whip-rounds amongst the two dozen largest advertisers collected a fighting fund of some £375,000 to fund the expensive but delightful luxuries that are competition lawyers and economists.

That’s an order of magnitude adrift, so I’m delighted – and excited – to learn that more advertisers are right with ISBA this time and putting their hands much deeper into their pockets. About time.

Then there’s what you might call the Rosetta Stone…

Any cross-media initiative is going to have to make – or at least enable – value judgements between exposure to an ad in a newspaper, on a TV channel, website and so on.

The current definitions of exposure vary wildly and, with the surprising exception of TV and perhaps out of home, have been based largely on how little the media owners could get away with.

The comparison always drawn here is between TV (viewing most of a commercial) versus online (half of the pixels in view momentarily). Hackneyed but stark.

No wonder broadcasters are understood to be leery about Project Origin and I’m sure the early and deep involvement of the platforms doesn’t help.

Stacking reach based on such different methodologies and criteria is mathematically bankrupt but ISBA, buoyed by its members’ financial backing pledges, is bullish and says that every user will simply be able to apply what they consider an appropriate weight to each different definition of exposure via open-sourced tools freely available to all.

When the advertiser paymasters speak, industry reaction tends to be outwardly positive, diplomatic and solicitous.

The few of their ideas that are considered much good downstream proceed.

The majority are first damned by feint praise and then ushered down the funnel of attrition towards a pauper’s funeral.

We won’t have to wait too much longer to see how this one actually plays out. My hopes still outweigh my optimism but I truly hope I’m wrong.

Meanwhile, conversations about the declining effectiveness of increasingly online marketing spends proliferate…

I had a conversation with our son about safety razors recently.  Apparently retro, such as P&G’s Gillette, is all the rage in mens’ grooming too.

Within fifteen seconds, my wife started seeing safety razor ads on her Instagram feed.

So much for targeting, unless it was with gifting in mind.

I imagine most readers of this might be impressed, inured to such practices, but it just served yet again to remind me in real-time how intrusive tech is.

What hope for our industry as long as we give such ready reasons to suspect and distrust us?

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