As TV Upfront Looms, Winning Procter & Gamble Ad Dollars Won’t Be Easy

Marc Pritchard Procter and Gamble
Courtesy of Procter and Gamble

Every year at upfront time, executives at media companies ask themselves the same question: What do I have to do to snare big advertising buys from Procter & Gamble?

To figure it out, they need to listen to Marc Pritchard. P&G, the maker of supermarket staples including Crest, Pampers and Tide, has long enjoyed a reputation for applying a heightened degree of rigor to the way it allocates billions on advertising and promotion. As the consumer-product giant’s chief brand officer, Pritchard has kicked things up several notches. Under his aegis, Procter has yanked money from digital outlets amid concerns about the accuracy of audience metrics; shaken up a Super Bowl often reliant on beer advertising with a clever campaign from Tide; and used P&G’s clout to force ad agencies to work together in new ways.

But it’s TV that might be most affected by Pritchard’s decision-making at this time of year.

Here, Pritchard, who has been with P&G since 1982, offers his thoughts on TV-network efforts to lighten primetime commercial loads and spells out why next fall’s shows need to reflect more diversity to win his company’s support.

NBC and Fox say they will begin to run fewer ads in primetime in certain parts of their schedule. Your company is one of those that has long required mass impressions to drive sales of products like Tide or Crest. Isn’t there a potential challenge to getting those impressions or views if the networks start cutting down on primetime commercials?

We have actually kind of started to take control and address that over the last year or so. You have probably heard me talk about the time to change mass marketing. You’re familiar with the old John Wanamaker principle? Half my advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.

What we now have is a higher degree of data and analytics that can help us figure out how to get mass reach, but with greater precision, and that’s really what we have been focusing on, because one of the things we have seen across TV, across digital, all mediums – one of the most persistent mass-marketing problems is annoying ad frequency. In other words, too many ads. Frankly, what the networks are looking at, they are focusing on making a better viewing experience, which makes a lot of sense. We have actually done our own work on this that helped us identify that, with our everyday products and our household personal-care products: You don’t need that much frequency to be able to make sure you can register an impression….We’ve used our cognitive science to confirm it’s not rocket science to remember that Bounty is ‘the quicker-picker upper’ or ‘If it’s gotta be clean, it’s gotta be Tide.’ When we looked at frequency, we found the average frequency was three, and we were reaching some people as many as ten times, some as many as 20 times…What we are doing is cutting off that excess frequency.

Are these new ad concepts worth more money because they are more scarce and isolated from other commercials?

It really depends. It depends on how many people it’s reaching. It depends on the context of the show. But we are willing to invest in engaging content where people are going to pay attention — as long as it pays out. …It’s got to be worth it. We’ve got to see the impressions and the sales lift out of it to make it worthwhile.

What techniques and methods does a company like P&G start to give more consideration as a rising generation of viewers grows more accustomed to watching their favorite shows with fewer ads, or even none?

One of the things we are doing is we are using a lot more data and a lot more analytics to be able to identify where it makes the most sense to be able to serve the right ad to the right person at the right time. We’ve got what we call a data and analytics learning lab which covers a large part of the U.S. population, and which we combine with purchase data. We can do a lot of experimentation to figure out how to get more precision. We have something we call ‘smart audiences,’ that allows us to get to the right precision and scale without the excess frequency. That allows us to , even in the TV world, be a lot smarter about where we place our bets.

The other thing we are doing is using a higher degree of influencers. We are getting others to speak on our behalf. One of the things we are doing – we actually got this from China  and are able to export it here – we call it ‘less doing more.’ You have one or two national ads you keep on for a constant period of time, which as it turns out registers better over time, and then you don’t have to spend as much on that, because what you then do is you can engage consumers with different types of content. You can work with influencers and then influencers can speak on our behalf and drive their own social media audiences to be able to draw people in.

“We are willing to invest in engaging content where people are going to pay attention — as long as it pays out.”
Marc Pritchard

We are also doing a lot more true one-to-one engagement. You may have seen our Olay Skin Advisor from the Olay website. You’ve got to try this thing. It’s not even an ad at all. It’s just engagement You download the Advisor from the Olay website. You take a selfie, and it will give you your skin’s age, and you can compare it to your actual age. It can be a little bit of a frightening experience. But what it does, since it uses an artificial-intelligence algorithm, it goes back to literally millions of different types of images that we have to diagnose, and then precisely prescribe what you need to do to take care of your skin. That’s increasing literally month after month. It’s the innovation we are seeing in the advertising world, where it’s almost less ads and much more engagement.

When you say influencers, can you describe more of what you mean? Are you talking about YouTube entrepreneurs, celebrities, bloggers? What do you mean when you use that term?

All of the above. You may have seen that, for example, we had Chrissy Teigen for our Pampers Pure launch. We had Priyanka Chopra do a little thing called “gentle is the new strong’ for Pantene.  You’ve got Olay where it’s a combination of bloggers. Dermatologists, beauty experts and people who follow them.

P&G recently struck a deal with ABC’s “Black-ish” to weave some messaging into the plot and dialogue of the episode. Is something like that sustainable and do you think there should be more overt disclosure of your ad support?

There’s a back story to that. If you’ve seen ‘The Talk,” an ad that we did for our ‘My Black is Beautiful’ brand, where it was really a ten-year celebration of that brand. What we wanted to do is address one of the things that black women are still facing. What they are still facing is bias and racial inequality. We did that ad and put it out there to start a conversation, which it did on “Black-ish.” They saw it and said, ‘We’d like to do an episode on that.’  We have a relationship with Anthony Anderson. He actually came here and did a talk with our company, and so they said it would be a very interesting conversation for an episode. They created an episode. We did go and run it on that and run a few more ads. That was really the genesis of it, rather than being a true branded-entertainment push.

I would say something like that is part of being a good citizen, being able to express our views and our support and in this case, diversity and inclusion and racial equality is one of the things we feel very strongly about. That’s why that one fit, and it happened to be Black History Month, so the context was right.

 Do you think the viewer needed to know more overtly of your involvement in getting that message out?

I think we were pretty transparent. Even in the “Black-ish” episode, they said P&G is doing this, so it was very clear. And we had a P&G ‘My Black is Beautiful’ ad to support it.

P&G recently indicated it returned to YouTube, only to find new concerns being raised about content. What is it digital companies must do to alleviate your worries about the medium?

Well, you remember back in the beginning of 2017, we made it very clear to them we needed – expected – along with others in the industry for digital media to grow up, and implement the media transparency steps on viewability, measurement verification, fraud prevention and brand safety. Over the course of a year, they did a lot of work in order to be able to complete those steps. Now they are in the process of finalizing their Media Ratings Council accreditation. We did vote with our dollars, very clearly. We got more transparency, and what we did is, with that transparency in terms of seeing how long people were really viewing ads, how much excess frequency did we have, how much fraud existed – we ended up taking 20% to 50% of our investment in many of these big players.  Now they still have more work to do, so we are still holding them to the standards of data transparency.

The other thing I think is a very important point – they have work they need to do, but we as marketers and P&G need to take control. That was the biggest conclusion coming out of this. It was really time for us to take more control. Step One: Vote with our dollars. Step Two: When it came to YouTube, we have dramatically cut down and having only a few channels that we are willing to advertise on, which have demonstrated and really been approved for being brand safe. That’s just part of taking control.

In recent years, TV networks have pushed back on some of their most long-standing sponsors, many of whom enjoy more favorable pricing advantages owing to their decades-old relationships. They say they simply can’t afford to abide by those deals any longer. Do you feel the networks have a case?

Competing on the basis of price is not a recipe for long-term success. Campaigning on the basis of innovation is the recipe for long-term success. That is really what we are seeking, and I think those that are able to innovate will be able to be more attractive. It’s us too, not just the networks. That’s why we are looking at lots of different ad models and different approaches. Take the Tide ad we did in the Super Bowl. That took some investment, and we were able to work with the network, work with the NFL on that, and I think that worked out quite well. So we are willing to do that. That has to be more of the driver — and needs to be the driver more than anything else.

So you are saying that creativity that gains you traction in the market will win the day in terms of the ad money you allocate?

We are a lot more interested in that — and of course, we are going to expect pricing advantages because we are, as you know, a huge advertiser. The pressure is going to keep going both ways. The reality is, there are plenty of alternatives. The better we use precision and data and analytics, the better we will be able to place money where we can get the most out of it.

P&G’s Old Spice recently tucked a disposable paper blazer into an issue of Conde Nast’s GQ. Buyers have suggested that Procter is looking at print with a new eye. This is a medium that has gotten a lot of scorn.  At a time when many advertisers seem to be pulling out of magazines and newspapers, do you see some advantages in print for Procter brands?

We are giving literally every medium a new look. Print – this is a classic example of innovation, where because we work with the Conde Nasts of the world, they innovate and we are able to do something and make it worthwhile. The other thing I’d say on print: It’s not just the physical print. It’s also the digital. I really like what a lot of the print companies are doing in terms of their digital footprints. You may be familiar with the Digital Content Network, which has a number of the print players. It’s brand safe. Fully transparent. Very trusted.

Would you say the print publishers have a strong connection to consumers owing to many years of operating longstanding brands?

Absolutely. The thing is they have high top-of-mind awareness, and as a result, the have a lot of latent trust, especially in today’s world, where there obviously a lot of questions about what are trusted sources. People are looking for trusted sources and some of these titles have become a trusted source.

You’ve recently indicated your desire to build a standalone advertising group for your fabric-care business out of a mix of executives and employees from agencies owned by different companies. Clients get a lot of say over their advertising -it’s your money after all – but why should you have the leeway to try to force rivals to work together?

As we are obviously giving all the media a new look we are giving how we work with agencies a new look and really reinventing our agency partnerships. One model is the one you just described. We call it a people-first model. It’s for Tide, Downy, Gain, Dreft and Bold and Unstoppable, another fabric enhancer. That is brining together the key star talent from multiple agencies into a stand-alone group that is really focused on knowing the fabric-care business. The intent of that is to create more innovation, more creativity. If you think about it, we’ve already run that experiment. For example, Tide: The Tide ads in the Super Bowl encompassed all of those,  media agencies and PR agencies. What we want to do is do that more frequently and do it more on an ongoing basis. They are still connected to their core agencies. That’s an important point. There is a lot of infrastructure and other supporting mechanisms that make that beneficial for both the individuals involved as well as the business. But yeah, I think we are going to be able to get some good work out fo that. We have already kind of run the experiment. Now we’ll do it more ongoing.

That’s one. The preponderance of agency reinvention has been more of a fixed-and-flow model. What you do is you chose a core agency, and that becomes the stable foundation that does the big campaign, and then you flow in and out of different agencies that can do the project work or do different types of activities. We are doing that with SK2 and Olay in Asia right now, and that’s been our first foray into that. We do a bit of that on some of the other brands here now. It’s going to become a more dominant approach. Then we are going to be co-locating more agency people with our people on the ground in local markets, and then we are bringing some work in-house. It’s a pretty big reinvention of who we work with the agencies and just how we work.

The Super Bowl is a haven for beer, soda and chips. But for the past two years, Procter & Gamble has been among the biggest buyers of Super Bowl ad time – and has gained notice for creative executions for Tide. What brought you to the event in a bigger way?

The reason why we like the Super Bowl is because it reaches so many people and because they are highly engaged. So we really use that as an opportunity to innovate, from a creativity standpoint. You may remember a few years ago, when we put Always in the Super Bowl. You had not seen a brand like Always in the Super Bowl before, but look, our audience was there. We put that out there and it was incredibly successful. And then every year we have been looking at different ways to innovate. We had Febreze for the past two years, and done some really innovative work. Mr. Clean did some great work. Pantene did a ‘dad-do’ a couple of years ago.  We are finding there a real magnet for creative innovation. And of course the Tide ad was incredibly creative.

Do you feel a need to be competitive with other advertisers? Do you need to be the stand-out marketer at the end of the night?

Well, at the end of the day, what we really care about is how we engage the consumer that loves our brands. That’s most important. And typically, if you’ve done a good job on that, we end up getting into the top ads for the Super Bowl.

You have been vocal in recent months about looking for more diversity and balance in the depiction of women in TV programs. As upfront season looms, what types of programming does P&G want to see more of?

This is so important, because we feel very strongly that we really need to be able to use our brands’ voices in advertising as a force for growth. People do expect brands to take more of a stand, which is why more of our advertising is focused on ensuring we are depicting women and girls in a way that’s accurate and also promoting gender equality. More of our advertising is depicting people of different races in an accurate way and also promoting racial equality and talking about things like racial bias as well as LGBTQ and people with disabilities. We are really looking at ensuring that our ads reflect the diversity of the people that we serve. Because what happens when the world’s largest advertiser does that on an everyday brand that people are seeing every day, it has a positive effect on attitudes. It helps equality become the norm, and helps mitigate bias, which is a very real human condition. We are looking for that from our programs too. We have very high standards for the programming we are on. So we are looking for programming that promotes gender equality, promotes racial equality, promotes diversity and inclusion of all kinds.