Despite several years of an industry-wide focus on improving measurement and transparency — in digital and elsewhere — the space continues to encounter steep roadblocks that could demand greater collaboration to solve, including among trade organizations, according to Procter & Gamble (P&G) brand chief Marc Pritchard, who was a keynote speaker at the Advertising Research Foundation's (ARF) AudienceXScience virtual conference Tuesday.
Four years ago, the need for more accurate and transparent measurement was part of a speech that Pritchard gave in which he issued a stark challenge to digital media vendors: Clean up the supply chain or risk losing the packaged goods giant's dollars. The directive from the Tide and Charmin owner demanded that all publisher partners receive accredited third-party verification from industry watchdog the Media Rating Council (MRC), with P&G also implementing the MRC's Viewability Standard as a minimum requirement across platforms. Praised at the time, the call-to-action was seen as a potential inflection point for digital marketing, as P&G is one of the world's top advertisers by media spend. This week, the executive called attention to how little progress has been made on this front.
"The challenges we still have are: How many people are we reaching, how often are we reaching them, how effective is what we reach them with and how efficient is it?" Pritchard said during the ARF talk. "It's remarkable that we still have these same challenges."
ARF CEO and President Scott McDonald, who moderated the discussion, agreed with Pritchard's statement, painting the ongoing measurement obstacles facing marketers as a Sisyphean battle. Part of the problem is how quickly consumer habits are changing, with media consumption more fragmented than ever amid the rise of channels like streaming and connected TV. But increasingly, foundational measurements put in place years ago are also being called into question. Nielsen recently lost its MRC accreditation for television ratings, and its Digital Ad Ratings are still under review — a decision that's set off a mad scramble from competitors including Comscore.
MRC's moves on Nielsen were this week supported by the 4A's, a trade group representing agencies, as well as the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), a marketer-focused confab which Pritchard chairs. The ANA in a news release outlined its media measurement principles, advising brands to back a system that is "objective, independent, transparent, neutral, and third-party verified."
Pritchard, who did not explicitly reference Nielsen or other measurement firms, echoed some of the ANA's comments and shared his hope that collective industry action can address ongoing troubles with measurement versus relying on a single governing body to set the agenda.
"This is about all boats rising," Pritchard said. "We don't view this as a zero-sum game. We view this as an opportunity to understand the ecosystem more holistically across every platform.
"I believe a cross-platform measurement requires a cross-industry effort, and that needs to be [from] industry associations," he added.
For the past two years, the ANA has been devising a cross-media measurement (CMM) solution designed to fit with MRC guidelines. CMM has the support of the 4A's, which is on the project's steering committee, and the World Federation of Advertisers, while the ANA is still working with other entities like the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB), Open AP — a media consortium centered on audience buying — and TV networks to iron out the details. The trade group is actively encouraging the VAB to join the steering committee as well.
"It is imperative that CMM becomes the paramount objective of the measurement community," the ANA wrote in its announcement. "ANA believes our industry should channel as much of its resources as possible towards the accomplishment of this goal."
In reinforcing the need for marketers to establish firmer industry-wide priorities, the organization also admitted it's often failed to meet its benchmarks when it comes to measurement.
"We have had many gatherings in the past on this topic and most, if not all, have fallen short of their stated objectives," it said. "Making meaningful progress now requires a substantial commitment for real change accompanied by a significant pledge of resources to overcome the material barriers that have impeded past progress across the measurement ecosystem."
During the ARF discussion, Pritchard defined his own goals with measurement and what keeps him up at night. Guiding his thinking are three key principles: objectivity — a quality underpinned by independent, third-party accredited verification, similar to what the MRC does; transparency, embodied by a clear understanding of shared rules; and completion, or striving for a full understanding of consumer behavior across platforms.
"It needs to be across platforms because the consumer doesn't experience our brands and our communication in just one particular platform or medium. They experience it across multiple," Pritchard said. "The experience on a digital video is different than the experience on a TV show."
Even as Pritchard emphasized the need for a greater coming-together in realizing a more holistic view of such behaviors, he indicated that marketers like P&G will need to play an outsized role in tackling measurement frustrations. A lot of that outlook boils down to a raw numbers game.
"It really is incumbent upon marketers to lead the way in terms of measurement, because at the end of the day the marketers are the entity in this industry that has the money, that is creating the offerings for consumers and then communicating those," Pritchard said. "As the buyers, we should ensure that we get accurate, objective, transparent, accredited measurement so we know we're getting what we paid for."
Preserving the value exchange
Pritchard's comments aligned with other initiatives that have tried to push more leverage to the buyer's end of the market. P&G last year eschewed traditional upfronts negotiations to instead broker direct advertising deals with networks, a change spurred, at least in part, by uncertainty stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. The move was another sign of the power balance shift occurring as COVID-19 and the acceleration of trends like cord-cutting deprecate the influence of traditional media gatekeepers.
Of course, greater media fragmentation presents fresh challenges regarding both measurement and data privacy. Pritchard on Tuesday said that first-party data is critical for marketers on the latter front, but suggested many aren't approaching their acquisition strategies with the right mindset.
"Don't come at it from the standpoint of, 'I'm trying to get data.' Come at it from the standpoint of, 'I'm trying to give you value,'" he said. "It's a value exchange."
P&G's broader mandate of achieving mass reach while preserving a degree of precision will face a steep test with the deprecation of third-party cookies next year. In terms of alternatives, Pritchard nodded to solutions like Google's Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) as offering an appealing level of granularity while not relying on identification on the personal level that could run afoul of regulations.
"There's a big distinction: It's not one-to-one, it's also not generic adults 18 to 49. But it is more precise," said Pritchard. "It's cohorts, so the FLoCs, those kinds of things — those enable the ability to get that [reach]."
Correction: A prior version of this story misattributed assessments of platform and measurement firms to Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard. He did not make direct comments on these entities.