MEDIA FORUM: Is Procter & Gamble asking too much?

Procter & Gamble wants to go beyond the 30-second ad. But can US ad agencies come through, Alasdair Reid asks.

What Procter & Gamble wants, it generally gets - but on those rare occasions when this proposition turns out to be less than axiomatic, P&G, one of the biggest advertisers on the planet, tends to get a little grouchy.

As those attending a recent media conference in Orlando were to find out.

The company has a long memory, too. Ten years ago, its then chairman and chief executive, Ed Artzt, delivered a thundering broadside at the ad agency business, accusing it of complacency and a reluctance to innovate.

He told them to smarten up. Ten years on, Jim Stengel, the company's global marketing officer, arrived at the media conference of the American Association of Advertising Agencies to tell them whether they had succeeded or not.

His speech is already becoming the stuff of legend.

"There must be - and is - life beyond the 30-second spot," he insisted. "But our systems still revolve around that. Today's marketing world is broken. We are still too dependent on marketing tactics that are not in touch with today's consumer." Stengel went on to remind his audience of the original Artzt call to action and graded the industry at "C-minus" for its subsequent response.

And in further comments during a later session, he went further. He said that everyone in the client community was dissatisfied with the status quo. So, while he admitted that his own company's strategic goals remain uppermost in his thoughts, he claimed that he was making this wake-up call on behalf of the industry as a whole. It was no longer good enough for rivals in its own sector, either. They have to look at the results being achieved by the most innovative marketers there are - companies such as Starbucks and eBay.

Marketing is broken? Is he right? David Pattison, the worldwide chief executive of the PHD Network, says the speech made more sense in a purely US (as opposed to a global) context. The US market remains conservative - perhaps understandably so when you look at the sums of money involved and the consequences should you take a risk and get it wrong.

He states: "It has only been in the past two or three years that media companies have been split away from creative agencies and they're still in a transitional phase - semi- media departments and semi-independents. They're still not quite there in terms of being the home of media-neutral planning. Most of the big pitches still tend to be about process, and the development of communications planning has been slow.

Clients have other priorities and they are not as far down the road as perhaps they'd like to be. So I'm not entirely sure the ad industry is solely to blame"

But Pattison does admit that the US market may lack the right resources on a number of fronts. "The quality of media research in the US is in many ways very poor. Then there's the question of finding the right people to do more sophisticated communications planning and that's even before we come to the question of how it is to be funded," he states.

Dominic Proctor, the worldwide chief executive of MindShare, points out that most agencies are continuing to look at innovation. "A lot of our investment is in new areas such as content and, of course, that's likely to continue," he says. "But I'm sure that in ten years' time someone else will come along and deliver this same speech and we'll see that the predominant forms are largely the same as they are today. As for what he says about the importance of communications planning, that is something that has been underway for a long time now - and from a MindShare perspective it is not something we have just been talking about but have actively been doing."

But Paul Woolmington, the chairman and chief executive of the New York media consultancy Media Kitchen, argues that most advertising groups have a lamentable record when it comes to innovation. He concludes: "They can come up with all the excuses they like, but where is their equivalent of the research and development division? It's true that most clients are risk averse and that's often due to the rise of the procurement director or the finance director. But it's also true that the ad industry still, by and large, has a model that is all about pushing TV commercials to consumers. Meanwhile, traditional network TV continues to diminish in power. Ad agencies keep saying that they are innovative and that they're not going to let management consultants eat their lunch but I think it's clear that agencies have been largely responsible for the conservatism that Stengel talks about."

- "Everyone is dissatisfied with things as they are. For us, it is not good enough to be better than the direct competition. If you start measuring yourself against the Starbucks or the eBays of this world, then you have a different set of comparisons." - Jim Stengel global marketing officer, Procter & Gamble

- "The problem is that if you go to a creative advertising agency you tend to be given an advertising solution. It's like going to a car company and asking it to give you a transport solution. It would be unsurprising if they recommended a car." - David Pattison worldwide chief executive, PHD

- "The onus on all of us is to experiment but new channels will be used only if they work and help build the businesses of our clients. The laws of supply and demand will ultimately determine this. Dollars, not fashion, will dictate what's sexy." - Dominic Proctor worldwide chief executive, MindShare

- "It's fantastic seeing a major marketer such as this acknowledging that communications planning is the way forward. Unfortunately for the big agency groups, they don't have the people to implement this. Hopefully, that bodes well for the smaller companies." - Paul Woolmington chairman, Media Kitchen.

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