P&G Shakes Up Tech Providers Behind Global Programmatic Buying

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P&G is spreading out duties on its digital-media-buying operation after seven years with AudienceScience. Rival Unilever has struck shorter contracts with marketing-tech vendors because of rapid change.
P&G is spreading out duties on its digital-media-buying operation after seven years with AudienceScience. Rival Unilever has struck shorter contracts with marketing-tech vendors because of rapid change. Credit: P&G

Procter & Gamble, the world's biggest advertiser, is breaking up duties for its seven-year-old Hawkeye programmatic digital-media-buying operation as it looks to save at least $1 billion annually on media spending and $500 million more from agency and production fees globally over five years. The move also comes as Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard is pressing to reform the digital-media supply chain through a series of provocative speeches to industry groups.

The changes to P&G's programmatic buying operation include parting ways with the original tech provider, AudienceScience, in favor of different providers in various parts of the world such as Neustar and The Trade Desk.

P&G does look to programmatic to make better use of media dollars, said P&G spokeswoman Tressie Rose. But she described the move as more about customizing for regional needs. "There's a lot going on in this space," she said. "We decided it was time to add what's needed for local and regional flexibility."

P&G's contract with AudienceScience, which provided an integrated global data-management platform (DMP) and demand-side platform (DSP), expires at the end of P&G's fiscal year on June 30, Rose said. P&G will work with Neustar and The Trade Desk in North America "and multiple parts of the world," she said.

Neustar is expected to provide the DMP, with The Trade Desk providing the DSP, according to people familiar with the matter.

There will be a variety of partners for P&G around the world, "especially on the buying end," meaning DSPs, Rose said. "Some of them have yet to be determined."

The moves don't affect relationships with agencies that work with P&G including Omnicom's Hearts & Science and Dentsu Aegis Network's Carat in North America, Rose said.

P&G began developing Hawkeye in 2008 and engaged AudienceScience in 2010 to provide its tech backbone, creating perhaps the first -- and certainly among the first -- single-client programmatic operations of its kind, said Tim Barnes, chief product officer at AudienceScence. "I think this is the longest-standing direct-to-client relationship in the industry," he said.

Hawkeye has allowed P&G to separate its buying from that of competitors or others and have greater visibility into how transactions are done.

It is often described as "in-house," but inasmuch as AudienceScience provided the backbone and owned much of the intellectual property and data, that doesn't fully describe things. The actual hardware involved, for example, is largely in Cincinnati or other P&G facilities, with P&G, agency and AudienceScience people working with it there and remotely.

However it's described, bypassing agencies as ad-tech owners and operators never sat well with everyone. WPP CEO Martin Sorrell, whose holding company lost potential revenue from the trend, said companies that go "in house" have trouble attracting necessary talent and keeping up with technology.

Unilever executives, who work with WPP's Mindshare on its Ultra programmatic buying system, have stated a preference to have marketing-tech contracts run no more than a year because of rapid change, and Barnes said many client arrangements with DSPs such as The Trade Desk last only 90 days at a time.

But in an interview, Barnes made the case for an integrated global buying platform for a company like P&G to take full advantage of its scale and deliver consistent results from the U.S. to China, where, for example, he said some tech firms operate from the outside in Hong Kong but AudienceScience operates inside "The Great Firewall."

Barnes didn't rule out continuing to work with P&G in some parts of the world or that AudienceScience may play a transitional role beyond June 30. Just as P&G's global programmatic platform was unprecedented, so is unwinding the deal, he said.

"This is a little bit of uncharted territory for the industry, let alone AudienceScience," Barnes said. "The contract is very clear. We own the intellectual property. We own our own [data] space. P&G owns their own first-party data obviously, and that's carved out into a P&G data warehouse." He said there's a transition plan to give P&G continuity, "and we plan to be a partner in that effort."

Losing the world's biggest advertiser as a client is a blow, Barnes acknowledged, but one cushioned by continued rapid growth in programmatic media buying. And he said he's proud of the work AudienceScience has been part of.

"In their marketing-mix modeling, where we are held up against all of their other advertising channels, we have been their number-one channel four years running," he said.

P&G's Rose confirmed that Hawkeye "has been very effective" under AudienceScience, but declined to confirm the "number one" designation.

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