When P&G cut way back on digital advertising … and nothing changed.

If you suspect that digital advertising might well include a big dose of “blue smoke and mirrors,” you aren’t the only one who thinks this way.

In fact, Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble, felt much the same thing. Back in early 2017, Pritchard complained to the industry about what appeared to him to be an unacceptable degree of waste in the digital advertising supply chain.

Among his concerns was the lack of transparency between advertisers and digital agencies, as well as the myriad ad-tech vendors that seemed to be adding more complexity that was disconnected to any defined value.

Pritchard was also concerned about the prevalence of bot traffic and the dangers to brand safety posed by risky content.

Holding the purse strings of one of the largest digital advertising budgets on the planet, Pritchard was in a uniquely strong position to exert changes in how digital advertising campaigns are handled.

And yet, even with this threat, the response from the industry didn’t go much beyond mild alarm and a bit of lip-service.

So, P&G‘s CBO put some juice behind his warning, cutting more than $100 million in the company’s digital ad spend between April and July of 2017. Pritchard noted at the time that this reduction in ad spending was designed to reduce waste.

After cutting the $100 million in ad dollars – representing a 20% reduction in P&G’s digital ad spend – what changed was … exactly nothing.

That is correct: no negative impact on ROI at all.

In fact, P&G actually experienced a ~10% increase in the overall reach of its remaining advertising campaigns.

How to explain this counterintuitive result?  Spending less but reaching more consumers occurred because extra efficiencies were harnessed by carefully pruning ineffective inventory and reallocating the remaining budget to higher-quality placements.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, another major consumer packaged goods company – Unilever – soon followed suit, reducing its own digital advertising spend by a whopping 50%.

Its move garnered the same result: no discernible ill effects on ROI resulted from the dramatic cuts.

The experiences of these two companies have poked several gigantic holes in a number of “truisms” about digital advertising.  Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Ad spending doesn’t drive value when it isn’t tied to quality metrics like viewable inventory.
  • “Quality” is something that can be controlled by taking steps like moving platforms.
  • Measuring the quantity of impressions isn’t as important as the quality of those impressions.
  • “Scale” isn’t king. Advertisers don’t need to have super-large budgets in order to drive meaningful results in the digital sphere.

Indeed, P&G and Unilever have proven that a media strategy that focuses on context and quality rather than brute force can get a lot done for significantly less outlay.

Updating the Marketing “4 Ps”

The Four Ps of MarketingIn business, we like our checklists and concise bullet points. It’s all part of our impulse to distill ideas and principles down to their essence … and to promote economy and efficiency in whatever we do.

In marketing and communications, it’s no different. Most everyone who’s studied business in school knows about the “4 Ps” of marketing: Product, Place, Price, and Promotion.

Today, that listing seems woefully incomplete and inadequate – even quaint. Stepping in to fill the void are additional attributes that have been proffered by marketing specialists. Several of these newer lists — one coined by Robert Lauterborn, a professor of advertising at the University of North Carolina, and another from technology marketing specialist Paul Dunay — consist of a group of marketing “Cs”: Consumer, Cost, Convenience, Content, Connection, Communication, and Conversion.

But I like a new group of “Ps” as popularized by Jennifer Howard of Google’s B-to-B market group. She offers up five new “Ps” of digital marketing, and they go a long way toward filling the yawning gaps in the original list.

These new digital marketing attributes are Pulse, Pace, Precision, Performance, and Participation.

Beyond the fact that fair dues should be given to anyone who manages to come up with an additional set of five new attributes that likewise begin with the letter “P,” they happen to be worthwhile additions to the original list, and they help bring it into the interactive era.

The new set of marketing “Ps” can be further described like this:

Pulse – active listening and attention to customer, brand and competitor insights.

Pace – the speed at which marketing campaigns are carried out is critical. “Slow and steady” usually doesn’t cut it.

Precision – assuring that marketing messages are delivered to the right customers … at the right time … and place (e.g., PC or mobile device).

Participation – creating conversations with customers via rich media ad formats and social media platforms to enable them to “join the conversation.”

Performance – meeting expectations for results that notch ever higher, via measurable and accountable marketing and media tactics.

In the world of digital marketing and e-commerce, marketers like to borrow a term from the realm of traditional retailing. It’s the “moment of truth,” and it was first coined by Procter & Gamble executives to describe those critical 10 to 20 seconds when someone is standing in a store aisle and making decisions on what to purchase and what to pass by.

In the online world, Google refers to this phenomenon as the “zero moment of truth” (ZMOT) – when a potential buyer interfaces with a brand or a product on a computer, smartphone or other digital device. Why zero? Because instead of 10 or 20 seconds, many people take only a split second to decide whether they’ll stay and engage … or whether to ditch and switch.