The future of adland: it's worth fighting for

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P&G's decision to measure only what matters is significant. Here's why and how we must support them to strive for a better ad future...

When the world’s biggest advertiser, Procter & Gamble (P&G), moves, the ad industry shakes. The reverberations from the advertiser’s recent announcement to overhaul its media strategy and measure only what matters will be felt across the industry.

P&G has a four-point plan and has vowed to adopt the Media Ratings Council (MRC)–validated viewability standard, implement accredited third-party verification, create transparent agency contracts and prevent ad fraud by teaming up with the Trustworthy Accountability Group. We as an industry need to do more than just watch and feel P&G’s frustration from the sidelines, we need to get involved and join the fight for greater clarity in what really drives business outcomes for advertisers. As Gerry D’Angelo, the global head of media for P&G and the man tasked with leading this charge, has said to those watching from the sidelines: "This is not a spectator sport. Get off the bench and join in." He’s right – and he should be commended for his rallying call to action.

P&G spends $7 billion a year on advertising, and with that comes huge clout to instigate change. However, they can’t do this alone. If fellow advertisers take the stance that they’ll hang back until P&G sorts the mess out – as many often do – everyone will lose out. All marketers managing a media budget, regardless of size, must take responsibility, which means carrying out the necessary due diligence, asking the right questions and ensuring they create appropriate downstream incentives that align with their true objectives.

We know, and there’s much evidence that supports the fact that the traditional method of tracking clicks is a blunt tool – and one that can actually incentivize bad behavior and contribute to fraud. Neither of these outcomes enhance customer experience or bolster the value of the media/advertising supply chain. Brands that continue to rely on this and other poor proxy metrics are not just contributing to the problem but – brutal truth be told – are both negligent and complicit.

The approach that P&G is trying to instill uses technology to drive scale and reach. Then, once that’s in place, they will use "muscle memory" to build personalization. Businesses like P&G own brands built on mass media, with the type of recognition that has always rubbed against the hyper-targeted sensibilities of environments like Facebook. It’s important to be able to accommodate both concepts – personalization and mass reach – simultaneously, so that companies don’t end up talking to a fraction of buyers. This is precisely the type of thing artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to assist with and can play an important incremental role in the advertising cycle.  

The fact that P&G has pledged to adopt new, fit-for-purpose metrics paves the way for other advertisers to quickly follow suit. Action is what matters now. The most important step for marketers to take is to rewire the incentives and measures that govern the objectives and actions of their entire supply chain, including agency, technology and media partners. Advertisers must check out each party involved in the media chain in order to cement KPIs and incremental outcomes for brand metrics as well as actual sales conversions, so they know exactly where their programmatic ads are appearing – just as they have always done in traditional media.

This is more homework for clients. Some might ask: What about the responsibilities of the ad tech companies and the agencies themselves? Of course, they have their positive role to play in this fight, too. The most important being to facilitate transparency and accountability. Change is most powerful when it comes from the top. By challenging and demanding accountability from their suppliers, brands can weed out the less responsible partners by refusing to advertise with them.

We are working in partnership with a number of forward-thinking advertisers globally to carve a different path. We’re sharing our knowledge with them about using AI to continually refine and measure ad campaigns. We’re also rethinking, with them, the way that success can and should be measured. Doing this will ensure a better return on advertising investments as well as clutter-free, engaging consumer experiences. And not just for the largest brands with the deepest pockets, either. We now have tools in place to deliver this kind of expertise to all companies, regardless of whether they are multinational or a start-up.

Naturally, all this involves time and effort, but it is worth it to clean up the digital ecosystem. After all, imagine how much growth advertisers will see when they can deliver the right message, accurately, to their target audience at scale with data-driven validation. Now that’s an ad future worth fighting for.