Procter & Gamble leads demand for more creditable online media advertising metrics

Marc Pritchard, P&G's Chief Brand Officer

Marc Pritchard, P&G’s Chief Brand Officer [Pic courtesy]

Procter & Gamble (P&G), the world’s largest advertiser by revenue, recently fired a shot across the bows of agencies and online media at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Annual Leadership Meeting in Florida.

P&G’s Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard, told the group that the days of giving digital a free pass are over. It’s time to grow up. It’s time for action.

Pritchard laid out three criteria for publishers and agencies before they’ll get any more of his $7bn P&G budget.

  1. A standard “viewability” metric;
  2. Fraud protection;
  3. Third party verification of metrics.

“P&G has vowed to no longer pay for any digital media, ad tech companies, agencies or other suppliers for services that don’t comply with its new rules” according to industry commentator Ad Age.

P&G brands diagram

P&G brands are wide-ranging and have huge online advertising budgets

He announced that P&G was adopting the Media Ratings Council (MRC) standard and would expect all its agencies and media suppliers to follow them before the end of the year.

The good news is that a single viewability standard is much needed. But the MRC thresholds for viewability are on the lighter end of the spectrum defining display ad impressions as “viewable” if at least 50% of pixels are on-screen for at least one second, and video as viewable if at least 50% of the player is on-screen for at least two seconds.

It has clarified that the definition of viewability is pretty dire if this is the standard P&G is insisting on.

The big issue is verification. Are advertisers really going to persuade Facebook and Google to open their analytic black boxes and let advertisers see what’s going on through third party verification?

The online advertising industry is essentially two companies: Facebook and Google that are, respectively, two-and-a-half and one-and-a-half times the size of P&G, in financial terms.

Marc Pritchard’s claim that this supply chain is “murky at best, and fraudulent at worst” is a sign that advertisers are finally starting to question the optimistic promises that were made about the value of metrics in digital media.

Pritchard also spoke with apparent frustration about the enormous amount of work his teams had put into monitoring the different viewability approaches of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, YouTube and others.

Again, the implications for B2C and B2B marketers are enormous. If P&G – the biggest, B2C advertiser in the world – can find itself on the receiving end of sur-commissions (undisclosed rebates on media buying), it’s clear that any company could also fall victim to secret deals.

Careful scrutiny of media contracts, commissions and the procurement of production companies look set to be a focus for all advertisers from this point onwards.

The new marketing department

A recent Forrester report concludes that “…business-to-business (B2B) heads of marketing who improve their team’s agility and simplify peer working relationships will enjoy more executive confidence….key to this transition will be their ability to span organisational silos and focus corporate strategy, energy and budget on enhancing knowledge of, and engagement with, customers.”

An urgent challenge content creators and marketers face today isn’t working out the new “normal” but rather how to build agile marketing departments that are equipped to respond to the unknown and unpredictable. Research supports this; for example, the Forrester report found that 97 percent of marketers are doing things they’ve never done before, and the same number are seeing a dramatic gap in the breadth and depth of skills needed.

It’s about change, not scale. We’re now at the point where we need to stop worrying about skillsets and start hiring for mindsets. We need to approach our marketing departments less like a machine to be controlled and more like a complex, dynamic system that can learn and adapt over time. This is the path to building fluid, organic processes that respond to new buyer behaviour, rather that the rigid structures with which we’re familiar. Companies around the world fueled by agile marketers are disrupting marketplaces, gaining customers bu subtle influencing and eclipsing their competition.

Agile marketers will serve as the agents of change that enable enterprises to respond to — and even lead — evolving customer expectations. This is how we’ll create truly integrated approaches in which content marketers are the ones who orchestrate all channels in an organisation so as to build long-lasting customer relationships.

By the way, this is called social business.


I recently updated my job history on LinkedIn, the business networking site. As I saved the amendment, an ad popped up for a sweepstake for a new business outfit from Banana Republic on the assumption that I needed new clothes for my new job.

Another occasion on which the information was fun and contextual and brought a smile to my face. Great branding.

Keeping your Gmail account secure

If you have not set your Gmail account to ‘Always use https’, do this now.

1 Sign in to Gmail.
2 Click Settings at the top of any Gmail page.
3 At the bottom of the page, set ‘Browser Connection’ to ‘Always use https.’
4 Click ‘Save Changes’
5 Quit and reload Gmail.

This will protect your GMail account. Just in case you need to know how Hypertext Transfer Protocol over Secure Socket Layer or HTTPS works, it is a URI (uniform resource identifier) scheme used to indicate a secure HTTP connection.

It is identical to the http:// scheme normally used for accessing Web resources using HTTP. Using an https: URL indicates that HTTP is to be used, but with a different default TCP port (443) and an additional encryption/authentication layer between the HTTP and TCP.

This system was designed by Netscape Communications Corporation to provide authentication and encrypted communication and is widely used on the World Wide Web for security-sensitive communication such as payment transactions and corporate information systems.

The HTTPS setting may give you some problems if you receive Gmail on your mobile but Gmail is sorting this now…see here>>>>>.

There have been security weaknesses in Gmail so it’s best to have this on all the time.

Giving Aunt Sally a kick up the a**e

In the galaxy of email marketing tools, the e-newsletter is the Aunt Sally, the washing machine. It’s useful and necessary but dull and essential. We’d much rather use the sexy new Italian espresso-maker.

Properly -made espresso is a luxury in a busy household but the essential laundry must get done. Prospects known to you and customers, the lifeblood of your business, must be regularly engaged and stimulated.

Staple white goods move products and build loyalty. Marketing people are aware of this – they can prove the value of an e-newsletter with metrics. You need a regular e-newsletter and you know it!

Before rolling up your sleeves, sorting the whites from the coloureds and choosing the right wash cycle, consider this? If we all follow the advice of the how-to-do articles from email marketing pundits, won’t all e-newsletters start to look the same?

Let’s take some well-known advice and see if we can’t give it a twist: let’s try using the opposite tack and produce some originality.

Tip 1: share expertise? Or demonstrate ignorance?
How about exhibiting some (carefully thought-out) ignorance, instead? Consider the old Zen adage ‘the more I know, the less I know’: the more knowledge we acquire, the more we can be surprised by just how little we currently understand or how much of it we actually communicate.

Pick something you’re relatively ignorant about and confess the fact to your readers. They just might identify with you. As long as the topic you’re ignorant about is something they didn’t even know-they-were-ignorant-about until you were sharp enough to point it out.

Tip 2: success – or failure?
Everyone’s human and you might benefit by showing it sometimes. Take a legendary Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) ad for the Volkswagen Beetle in the 1960s (old Beetle!). It was a basic shot of the car, with Lemon in a bold headline. The copy explained: ‘The chrome strip on the glove compartment was blemished and needs to be replaced’.

You can do the same with your e-newsletters – find some fault in your own work which will illuminate your standard of self-criticism and your other standards. Constant success gets boring and unrealistic.

Tip 3: feature a current topic or find something that no-one else will feature?
Composing your slant on a current topic is a common approach but it can have its detractors — especially if it’s already been done to death. Try an oblique approach instead. If a new high tec gadget is getting mainstream coverage, how would your products or service benefit the most old-fashioned business in the Yellow Pages?

Tip 4: take a close look at a product or service you offer
Turn it on its head — take an in-depth look at a product or service you don’t offer for very good reasons. As the visionaries of 37signals say in Getting Real (a sort of common sense bible for the digital generation), do less than your competitors in order to outflank them.

Embrace the clarity and simplicity of your proposition and describe the philosophy behind leaving out the feature you describe.

Tip 5: use current events to highlight your service
Try finding a timeless principle which runs counter to current thinking and products. Your subscribers are suffering from information overload — spare them the latest gripe on the weather, Gordon Brown’s latest blunder and house prices. You could garner some sympathy and attention when you take people’s minds off current affairs.

Tip 6: ask your subscribers?
How about listening to subscribers? Marketing is about establishing deep emotional and rational communication with customers and prospects and using this dialogue to sense their needs. Sometimes asking for a rational response prompts a cynicism about why you didn’t know that stuff in the first place. Get under their skin and take an educated guess.

Subscribers can sense when you’re just going through the motions. That can’t be good for your brand, regardless of what the metrics say and how many loyal subscribers continue to open and respond to your e-newsletter.

So ask yourself: am I excited about my e-newsletter? Does it express my voice and vision? Do I still approach it in the right spirit and does this communicate itself to my subscribers (if not, delegate to a fresh member of staff or outsource)?

If you have to ignore an army of email experts’ advice to get to where you can answer ‘yes’ to those questions, then do it. And adopt a new attitude to the weekly wash.

Getting the tone of an email just right

As part of my work, I subscribe to literally hundreds of e-newsletters. What surprises me is the frequency of what appears to be the wrong ‘tone’.

Advertising agencies have become masters of tone: creating an emotional bond with customers is the soul of marketing. It is how you enter and stay in the minds and hearts of customers. You do more than convince: you beguile and motivate. Rather than scream, you send a subtle, subliminal message that appeals to both sides of the brain.

How do you develop a tone? Well, of course, you have already segmented your audience into a number of segments defined by demographics. For each segment, create a typical customer/prospect and build up a number of characteristics. Give your ‘crash dummy’ a name: for instance, if one of your segments were owner/managers of smaller firms suffering financial pressures, she might be Katie Cashflow.

Katie is 35, a first-time entrepreneur, too busy with detail, under-capitalised and under financial pressure with poor sales and cashflow. She has a poor life/work balance, has a good offering but needs financial and analytical skills to help her buy some time and get the business on a stronger financial footing.

That’s only a start but, when you’re composing an e-newsletter to Katie and her equivalent audience segment, it is much simpler to get the tone of the e-newsletter right, to understand her dilemmas and offer her services that will solve her challenges.

You can get the tone right in factual, emotional and style terms. And effective tone improves your results.

Planes and boats and trains

I explored Lymm this Bank Holiday weekend on foot. Lymm is a small Cheshire village which was unaffected by modern communications until 1766 when the Bridgewater Canal was constructed and skirts Lymm north of the village centre.

Lymm, from the Frith Archive

Lymm, from the Frith Archive

The canal offered access to a ready market for local agricultural produce and developed the fustian trade where coarse woven cotton was sent from Manchester cotton mills along the canal to Lymm’s fustian cutters. The bolts of cloth were stretched along attic floors and loops on the material were cut by hand, producing a form of velvet.

Subsequently, the railway arrived in 1853 (now the Trans-Pennine Trail) and began Lymm’s change to a dormitory village. The Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894, skirting the village a mile to the North, and Lymm technically became a village by the sea! Salt extraction flourished for fity years from the beginning of the last century.

In the 1960s, the M6 and the M56 were built close to Lymm. Throughout it’s recent history, this small village has been profoundly shaped by communications through highways.

Bridgewater Canal in Lymm

Bridgewater Canal in Lymm

It made me think of our latest superhighways — the Internet, 3G mobile telephony, Bluetooth, WiFi, WiMAX — and how they are changing small hamlets. And how important content is.

The fustian trade couldn’t develop without quality cloth supplies. Conurbations needed fresh dairy produce. Lymm’s salt was of a particular purity.

So the packets of data on the Web’s superhighway need the quality of Lymm’s physical products to make them intelligible and emotionally appealing. And I am the dairyman, salt chemist and fustian cutter of this latest highway.

Confirming email lists

Should email lists be regularly confirmed?

I know organisations who are cautious about moving to a new ESP (email service provider)  because they suspect that they will be asked to run an initial opt-in process for their list and they worry about losing subscribers.

But is that such a bad thing? Most lists have a long tail of subscribers who haven’t responded for a while and it may be time to retire them gracefully. Perhaps you read your stats enthusiastically and you know the characteristics of a subscriber life cycle.

As subscribers approach ‘old age’, you should give them a chance to positively opt-in once more and, if they don’t respond, then another, final chance.

After that, they are probably dead wood anyway. Don’t keep on your list just to be macho about your list size. Quality, not quantity!

So run a regular confirmation programme: what you lose in numbers, you gain in quality and realism. And waste less time in conserving subscribers who are unlikely to ever respond.

Email marketing is about interpreting figures, not massaging them.