In an interview just published in Marketing Week, P&G’s brand chief, Marc Pritchard, has revealed further details about what could probably be termed the company’s ‘readjstment’ of it digital strategy and wider relationship with its agencies.
In short this involves cutting back spend on digital, requiring that digtal investment demonstrate its impact on sales and creating more data expertise in-house so that it can’t be, as he put it “dazzled by the shiny objects”. I would say this shows that P&G is becoming maladjusted: learning to ask the right questions rather than just buying answers.
He also calls on his agencies to boost the percentage of resource invested against creatives from 50% to around 75% to 80%.
My suggestion to Marc Pritchard would be to do to creative what he is doing to data: i.e. establish more creative competence in-house so that P&G can have greater control in generating brand ideas: shifting the role of agencies so they become tasked with bringing these ideas to life. In effect, giving P&G the ablity to make brand ideas the creative brief.
Here is why. The ‘digital revolution’ has created a new marketing space. The terms of the relationship between brands and consumers in this space are different. Within this new space consumers want to be treated as individuals, rather than members of an audience. The marketing challenge within this space is real-time behaviour identification and response (not message, reach and frequency) and it is the value of individual connections that is far more important than the volume of such connections. Traditional marketing is not set-up to serve this space because traditional marketing is a volume game. It is focused on the audience, rather than the individual, simply because the channels that have been available to it have all been audience-based channels. Traditional marketing = audienced-based marketing.
However, we must not be fooled into thinking that traditional marketing is dead: it is not. Consumers are still receptive to the idea of being treated as members of an audience, indeed the continued existence of what we think of as a global brand requires that the concept of an audience of consumers be nurtured and maintained. The recent obsession with all things digital and the seduction of micro-targeting has probably caused marketers to forget this key point. After all, you can only segment an orange so much before it stops being an orange.
This is not to say that brands should simply turn back the clock and plough money into traditional techniques because the nature of audience-based marketing has also changed, largely as a result of channel fragmentation and the fact that channel selection is now much more within the hands of individual consumers.
This means that brands need to shift from ideas that are defined by the channels that they sit within, to creating ideas that define the channels they sit within. Brands need to break their dependency on channel-driven thinking. The problem with agencies is that they are channel specialists. Advertising agencies emerged to provide the specialist craft skills required to create ads and our definition of creativity became wedded to (or constrained by) its requirement to be married to particular delivery channels. Creativity became segmented because the money was segmented.
Many marketers have been aware of this issue for some time. The response has been to encourage their agencies to become more cross-channel. However, the problem with this is that the money is still channel-aligned and no-one pays for ideas. Agencies, despite their protestations to the contrary, are very bad at coming up with ideas that are not channel-aligned. They don’t have genuine cross-channel creative competencies, largely because there is not a revenue stream available against this. Having spent 20 years in a large international agency group I can tell you this for a fact.
But the issue here is, should agencies be expected to have cross-channel creative expertise? When creativity was a specialist craft skill, outsourcing it to agency craftsmen made sense. However, the type of creativity you need when you are operating cross-channel is different. It is more strategic, it is more operational and it is therefore a competence much better suited to sitting in-house.
I believe that brands teams can, and should, become more creative. Brand teams can create channel-defining ideas and agencies then be tasked with bringing these ideas to life. Bringing ideas to life is a creative task that is much better suited to outsourcing than outsourcing idea creation. The best example I know here is Red Bull. Red Bull didn’t sponsor a F1 team (sponsorship = channel based thinking). Red Bull created an F1 team. Red Bull has also created a host of other properties that then draw the channels and consumers to them. TV channels now pay Red Bull to deliver the brand to consumers, not the other way around. The idea (and thus the brand) is bossing the channel, not being bossed by the channel. I am sure that this was not an agency-driven strategy, but came from the brand team because it would not have been within the competence or interest of an agency or agency group to deliver (and thus maximise revenue opportunity) against such an idea.
I spent my agency career in PR. Good PR agencies (and unfortunately these have tended to be the exception rather than the rule) have always been much better at ideas than any other specialism. The reason for this is that PR never owned its delivery channel. It has always had to find ways of getting its ideas adopted by the channels that take it to the consumer or by the consumer directly. It is also a practice fundamentally rooted in stories – when writing a press release as a gradute trainee I can remember the constant refrain, “what’s the story”? PR people are also not traditionally seen as creative, simply because they have never had a channel craft to align ‘channel creativity’ against.
The people who make up your average PR team are not significantly different from the people who make up your average brand team. I therefore know that with some support and additional resource, your ‘average’ brand team is more than capable of creating channel-defining ideas. Having also worked with P&G I also know that P&G people are not average.
So my ‘build’ to Marc Pritchard would be to say, “invest in building in-house creative resource so that you can create, own and control ‘channel-bossing’ ideas and then task your agencies with bringing these ideas to life”. P&G needs a Chief Creative Officer.
I would also say that there is a whole other approach P&G needs to adopt to ensure that its digital activities are aligned against creating value from harnessing the power of connection rather than the power of distribution – but that is a whole other blog post.