4A's Conference

P&G's Marc Pritchard: Let's Forget the Tech and Fall Back in Love with the Idea

Marketer Resparks Age-Old Debate at 4A's Conference

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Kicking off the day at the American Association of Advertising Agencies' biggest annual conference in New Orleans, Procter & Gamble Global Brand Building Officer Marc Pritchard delivered a call to action to advertising creatives.

Marc Pritchard

The message? Forget thinking about how to make a vine or sending out the most clever tweet. Instead, focus on how to connect to consumers using ideas so big they'll work on any platform.

Mr. Pritchard who, despite being a marketing leader at one of the largest advertisers in the world, began his talk by lamenting that in his world -- one of selling unsexy products like soap, toilet paper and diapers -- it can be tough to break through and resonate with consumers. "Getting people to pay attention to our brands is a heck of a creative challenge," Mr. Pritchard said. "We all know that our creative challenge has never been harder because of the dizzying array of connections" consumers are making, he said, referencing a long list of mediums -- everything from radio and print to Instagram and Snapchat.

In some ways, he argued, technology is making it harder to find the creative ideas that will click broadly with consumers because ad people are getting too enamored with the medium instead of the message.

"We may have fallen a little in love with the technology and have taken our trusted friend -- the idea -- a little bit for granted," he said, earning applause from hundreds of ad execs in the room. Mr. Pritchard went on to call for the industry to "fall back in love with 'The Idea.'"

He urged brands and their agencies to focus on creating engaging experiences, noting, "that's a lot more exciting than the technology industry."

Among the examples Mr. Pritchard described as P&G getting back to the big idea was Duracell's "Power Forward" campaign, which helped victims of Hurricane Sandy last fall. The push entailed visits by Duracell brand team members to impacted communities in New Jersey and New York, where they distributed packs of batteries and provided trucks that allowed folks to power up their devices. "They became an authentic story … with a tiny investment and a huge ROI."

Mr. Pritchard also noted the popular "Proud Sponsor of Moms" commercials it did for the Olympics last summer, which he said emanated from a simple idea: "Thank you, Mom, for all you do."

It was hard to listen to him speak about the impact of the work without recognizing that the impact came from technology platforms, however. Mr. Pritchard talked about how important it was for P&G to become part of real-time conversations that go on during big events such as the Super Bowl and the Olympics, which could not happen without platforms like Twitter. "More than 200 million saw it online, more than [the number that] watched it on TV," he said of the "Moms" work.

At the end of the presentation, Mr. Pritchard made another call to action by asking agencies and marketers to continue to support the Ad Council with ideas that transcend the complexity of mediums and technology and become a part of the national conversation. Peggy Conlon, CEO of the Ad Council, also came onstage briefly to add to the plea to continue donating time and space (there was $1.5 billion in donations last year).

Said Mr. Pritchard: "We need your time, your creativity, your donations and most importantly, your ideas ... to create world-class campaigns for the causes that matter the most."

One could call it a PSA aimed at the ad industry.

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