Enter Randy Peterson, who's worked to dispel both myths. P&G's digital innovation manager worked with Yahoo and ComScore last year to back research showing a surprising level of search activity around package-goods categories and branding impact for search ads, even if clicks are relatively sparse.
Mr. Peterson says he's found a way P&G can enjoy a scale advantage in search -- by treating it as one of the few truly global media for a company with two dozen billion-dollar global brands.
"Usually, in media, we look at it on a country basis," Mr. Peterson says. "If you buy a TV ad in one country, you don't really want it spilling over into [another] and paying for that. [But] with search, you can have one system that works globally ... doing keyword analysis in country A and with little or no effort reapply that in countries B through Z."
Mr. Peterson, 53, knows something about global reach. The North Dakota native and former Bell Laboratories engineer joined P&G as an information-technology manager in Japan in 1991. He speaks Japanese, once taught skiing in France and enjoys salsa dancing.
"He was sort of a secret weapon for me," says Ted McConnell, digital innovation director for P&G, who brought Mr. Peterson onto his team four years ago when he was still in Japan and had worked with him in P&G's information-technology organization for as long as 15 years. "A lot of people here in the U.S. didn't know there was this super-talented American who lived in our Japanese organization, so I brought him back."
Mr. Peterson says he believes his work has helped open eyes (and wallets) within P&G to the power of search. Brands ranging from Clairol to Dawn now lead their categories in natural and paid results.
"Seventy-one percent of consumers expect us to be there in the search-results page," he says. "If you're not there, it's like not being on the shelf at the store. They think if you're not there, you're not a leading brand."
Another big advantage for P&G in search is feedback that can create continuous improvement in marketing pitches, sometimes dispelling preconceived notions about what words have meaning for a brand. "You can see what keywords are driving the most results," Mr. Peterson says, "and you should be trying to win against those words."