In January, Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard laid down the gauntlet for digital media: Get your outside audience verification plans accredited by the Media Rating Council this year or lose your P&G budgets.
Some results have followed. Last month, the MRC said it had started an audit of three firms' methods for measuring Google's audiences and brand safety, with results expected by early in the fourth quarter.
But that's no guarantee of success. And players including Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Snapchat aren't even that far along, with less than six months left.
So is P&G prepared to make good on its threat? In a recent interview with Advertising Age, Pritchard said he sees progress, but he's not budging -- at least not yet. That could affect the company's business even with Amazon, which is both a major P&G customer and media vendor. And the real work, he said, starts when digital measurement transparency is in place and cross-media analysis starts in earnest.
The following interview has been edited.
How do things stand on what you've asked the industry to do on digital accountability and brand safety?
But no one else has made an ultimatum that platforms need verification by year end or they stop spending. You're still firm on that?
We will vote with our dollars. It's that important. And the reality is that there are a lot of fish in the sea.
One of the "walled garden" platforms mentioned by MRC CEO George Ivie back in March was Amazon. Will you even stop advertising on Amazon if they don't get verified?
It's media. It's the same expectation wherever we put media dollars. We need that kind of verification. It's just common sense that you can measure what you pay for. Then the hard part comes. Once we get the clear transparency on what we're getting comes the analysis of whether it's worth advertising there.
Any wiggle room? If everyone is making a good-faith effort and the MRC is still working on some of this stuff will there be an extension?
We'll see. No wiggle room now. It's a really important expectation. It's time.
Some folks believe the whole resistance by digital players to verification was really about not wanting to have performance comparable across media. Think there's anything to that?
I don't know about that, because I have heard some of the technical issues. I didn't start this discussion in January. It started well before that. But I do know this, that when we get that transparency we can do the analysis, and each of the players is going to have to earn their way into the investment.
Here's a theory from Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research: You pulled back on digital, freed up $100 million that you could put into the TV upfront, which could be optioned away if digital players get their verification, and then you could put it back into digital next year. Meantime, P&G putting more into the upfront drives up rates, so the TV networks win either way. Any thoughts?
It's an interesting theory. I would say this. We're looking at every dollar spent. So the dollars have to work, whether it's in TV, print, outdoor and digital. More than ever in a very discerning way, we're looking at every dollar of spend and the evidence that it can grow.
We're doing in-market tests to see what media are building brands. So it's not just a rush one way or another. It's a very discerning look. These issues -- the transparency, the brand safety -- have created an inflection point in the industry where we just need to call a time out and take a hard look.
UNILEVER WANTS A STANDARD TOO, JUST NOT THE ONE P&G WANTS
Like Procter & Gamble Co., Unilever wants to "get to a system where we have one measurement system across the industry," which includes third-party verification, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed said in an interview.
Unlike P&G, he doesn't want to use the Media Rating Council system, which defines a "viewable" ad impression as one that's at least halfway in view for at least a second (two seconds if it's video).
Weed is sticking with the GroupM standard that Unilever has championed for more than two years, which calls for ads to appear on-screen in their entirety. Video needs to show completely for 30 seconds or the full length of the ad.
Also unlike P&G, Weed isn't issuing any ultimatums about pulling spending if digital platforms don't hit a deadline.
"I do say my spend will favor these criteria, and we are very clear with the individual players," Weed said. "Now, each of them have different products and different ways we engage with them. What I don't do is publicly call them out, but I do privately. I'm interested in competitive advantage as well. So I'm interested in the best solution for Unilever without necessarily telling everyone."
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the MRC defines a "viewable" ad impression as one that's at least 50% in view for at least half a second. In fact the ad needs to be at least halfway in view for a full second or more.