ANA Annual Meeting 2016

P&G's Pritchard: Time to Cut the Crap -- and the Pressure on Agencies

Company Has Supplied Plenty of Both, Top Marketer Acknowledges

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'On every part of the canvas, craft matters,' Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard said ad the ANA Masters of Marketing conference on Thursday.
'On every part of the canvas, craft matters,' Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard said ad the ANA Masters of Marketing conference on Thursday. Credit: Clarion Pictures
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Too many marketers, Procter & Gamble Co. included, have gotten caught in a content "crap trap," and one way out may be to start treating agencies better, according to Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard.

Mr. Pritchard has talked about P&G's crap-to-craft journey a few times this year, including at Cannes. But a new wrinkle in his Thursday keynote address to the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando was an acknowledgment that marketers generally, and P&G specifically, need to let up on pressuring agencies.

What sounded like a peace offering may take on added weight given that Mr. Pritchard, now vice chairman of the ANA, is expected to be announced as chairman on Friday, succeeding former Subway CMO Tony Pace. Both have served in their roles the past two years, a period after which the ANA board typically elevates the vice chair.

The ANA has had an increasingly contentious relationship with agencies -- particularly media agencies -- over the past 18 months as it probed alleged undisclosed rebates and other non-transparent dealings in the U.S.

Mr. Pritchard was specifically addressing issues with creative agencies, given the focus of his talk on "Raising the Creative Bar." But he said it's time to lower pressure on agencies – which has included P&G cutting its agency and production fees the past two year by $570 million to $1.4 billion.

"Let's also remember that advertising is a creative business, and our agencies are made up of people," he said. "The last few years have been admittedly tough on agencies, P&G included. And it's time to turn the page. The negative narrative needs to stop, because the people in our agencies are good people, the ones who do good work to create magic together with all of us. Let's tap into all that positive human energy to create the most abundant explosion of creativity the world has ever seen."

Improving creativity requires craft that "belongs in the hands of serious professionals," Mr. Pritchard said. "Don't ever accept mediocrity. Don't be seduced into the crap trap of just getting something out. On every part of the canvas, craft matters."

Doing good creative work also requires time, he said. "And we have a problem, because we're spending too much of our time on measurement of advertising vs. the quality. We're fiddling with measurement debates while consumers are blocking our ads. Measurement is not going to make crappy advertising better."

That line generated applause from among what ANA CEO Bob Liodice said is a record 2,700 registrants this year, including 1,500 ANA marketer members.

But Mr. Pritchard said he hasn't quit being concerned about measurement, particularly on the media side, as he shifted the transparency discussion toward media companies rather than agencies.

"Our patience has run out," Mr. Pritchard said. "It's time to insist that all media partners adopt common, transparent measurement standards and accept third-party verification."

Realistically, key players, including Google and Facebook, which dominate digital media, have bowed to marketer demands for third-party measurement in the past year. It was why P&G and others who have outside firms measuring viewership, such as Unilever, weren't surprised by Facebook's recent revelation that it had been overstating average video view times.

On creative measurement, while P&G certainly hasn't abandoned copy testing, Mr. Pritchard said he favors a different test for deciding to proceed with work, which is "whether it makes my spine tingle." If it does, it should at least get further development, he said.

So the examples he raised from the crap side of the ledger -- such as a Pantene social-media post with a rather unappetizing photo of enchiladas and rice, and a Pepto Bismol video about a boy raised by goats that didn't provide a clue about the brand involved until after the 4-minute mark -- are things he hopes are in the rearview mirror. He expects to see more from the craft side, including a variety of funny or tear-jerking work for Gillette, Tide, Ariel and SK-II.