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Transparency and accountability in digital advertising: can P&G make it happen?

Transparency and accountability in digital advertising: can P&G make it happen?

Procter & Gamble is one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, making products with household names such as Tide, Crest, Febreze, and more. They are also one of the largest spenders in advertising, paying as much as $7.2 billion on advertising last year alone.

So, it stands to reason that with a budget that large, there are two things that can probably be said about P&G: one, they are serious about advertising; and two, decisions they make about spending have the potential to reverberate across the industry—sort of like Walmart’s ability to affect the food supply chain when they make a change.

It’s this latter point that struck me when I read a piece on AdExchanger at the end of January with the very unsubtle title “P&G’s Pritchard: ‘We Don’t Want To Waste Time And Money On A Crappy Media Supply Chain’.” Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard made that statement at an Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) leadership meeting, and then elaborated on what P&G will require from its paid media and advertising partners and agencies.

“Digital needs a Nielsen”

Any marketer, communicator, advertiser, or PR person who has dealt with measuring and reporting on social platform metrics likely understands one of P&G’s major frustrations: the varying standards for each channel. Each platform is different, with varying audiences, technologies, and the content varies too. There are common elements though, and P&G is asking for platforms to use the Media Rating Council’s (MRC) viewability standards as a common metric. MRC has issued guidelines for measurement of both desktop and mobile viewable advertising, with the mobile version released in June of last year. Getting measurement standardized for digital advertising is a must for P&G.

P&G will no longer accept self-reporting

Third-party validation of reported metrics from social platforms is another P&G demand. Pritchard equated this with “a fox guarding a hen house,” and stated that “excuses” such as “walled gardens” will no longer be acceptable.

The article goes on to detail two more P&G requirements: contract transparency with its partner agencies, and the requirement that “any entity touching digital media” be TAG-certified. (TAG is the Trustworthy Accountability Group that provides review and a certification program that ensures digital advertisers comply with a set of best practices that prevent fraud.)

How could this affect communications and PR?

As noted above, P&G is a very large player with many agency partners across the fields of advertising, PR, and communications. The simple mandate that “any entity” providing digital media will be required to be TAG-certified means that potentially hundreds of agencies, partners, and platforms will soon carry that seal.

However, it is the unacceptability of self-reporting and the common viewability standards that could have the most direct impact on communications and PR—particularly in the field of measurement. If platforms are forced to adopt a common standard and can no longer self-report, we will likely gain a much better understanding as to the effectiveness of advertising on each platform. “Paid” is part of the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model that many PR pros are building their outreach efforts and programs around, and providing more clarity in this segment would be welcomed.

The timing of when all of this could be expected to happen is an unanswered question. The push for better transparency and standardized metrics just became a shove.

PR, marketing, and advertising lines have been blurred for a while now, so marketplace changes that affect advertising will necessarily affect PR. Procter & Gamble’s position as a giant in the advertising space means that some real muscle is behind the move for changes.

How these changes could impact social platforms in the long term is another unanswered question. If demands for more accountability and greater transparency reveal that digital advertising is not terribly effective, will the ad dollars dry up, or will they shift and be better spent when brands can work with real data? Advertising revenue is what keeps social platforms up and running. Shifts or declines in ad revenue are a real issue for them, and if and when these changes come to pass we could see some dramatic changes in the social ecosystem.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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