Last January at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, I followed Procter & Gamble CMO Marc Pritchard on stage after his speech about all that was wrong with the digital supply chain - the first of his ultimatums to the digital advertising channel. It was a very impressive speech, and he said a lot that needed to be said. Ten years ago we used to joke that P&G shouldn't get to make any public pronouncements about digital advertising until it actually spent money on it; and here was the P&G CMO - who'd spent a lot in recent years - having his say.
But then came the Ides of March. In an instant P&G cut $100 million in digital ad spend, with the implied threat that until we got our collective act together on fraud, viewability, standardization and more, that money wasn't coming back. I know many sales reps who did land office P&G business in 2016 and who are now seeing a big fat zero in that column.
But I wonder....
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I wonder if this is all as clear as it's meant to look. All that money went away: will it really all come back once MRC accreditation kicks in? I'm starting to think that it won't. And even if it does, I'm not sure it's going to flow through the same pipes or look anything like the spending we all got used to in recent years.
I wonder if P&G cutting $100 million from digital wasn't just the least painful, most justifiable way they could make a significant move away from above-the-line brand advertising. The world has changed dramatically for P&G and other packaged goods giants in recent years, and the change doesn't have all that much to do with viewability standards on digital banners. The simple truth is that the distribution chain has been completely upended. Amazon has become a dominant channel for the sale of packaged goods, household and personal care products, and they will continue to press the P&Gs of the world for deeper and deeper discounts. That money has to come from someplace.
I wonder if those working so hard to win P&G's digital advertising money back might be fighting the last war....as if we all just assumed that the biggest TV advertisers would morph into the biggest digital spenders. I wonder if advertising isn't being seen now as a cost center to be managed and if the goal might be to buy less and less of it.
I wonder if we all need to think less about how we'll help P&G spend its shrinking pile of advertising cash and how - instead - we might help them sell more product in a world where there's a new normal for distribution and consumer behavior.
I wonder if we're not all missing the story line here.