Diageo’s In-House Ad Buying Boosts Productivity And Brand Safety

As a CPG, Diageo is always looking for efficiencies. And as a spirits’ brand, it’s especially vulnerable to brand safety issues.

That’s why the beverage giant brought programmatic and social buying in house in North America, a decision that has driven both more control and “a lot of productivity and return,” said Jason Acker, Diageo’s digital director in North America. Having hands on keyboards allows the organization to move faster and optimize creative and media in real time.

Like most CPGs, Diageo doesn’t sell directly to consumers, and is actively building up a first-party data arsenal to get closer to them.

One way it’s doing so is by launching more “brand homes,” or hybrid museum and retail experiences, across the globe. Its most popular outpost, the Guinness Storehouse, is now one of the biggest tourist attractions in Dublin, drawing in 1.7 million people in 2018.

“Making those investments allows us to close that gap between us and the consumer to create experiences before, during and after,” said Isabel Massey, global digital director, marketing at Diageo.

While most of the industry is weary of talking about brand safety, Diageo recommitted its efforts to the cause in Cannes this year, where it co-launched the Global Alliance for Responsible Media with Unilever and Mars. The alliance intends to make a set of cohesive objectives among major marketers to root out issues plaguing the industry like fraud, brand safety and viewability.

“This is not an area where, as advertisers, we should be competitive,” Massey said.

She and Acker spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Diageo has 200 brands. How do you coordinate a global marketing strategy, and where do you let local, regional or brand teams take the lead? 

ISABEL MASSEY: We’re a very market-driven organization. That allows us to move faster and go after opportunities closest to the consumer. From a global perspective, our role is to identify opportunities where we can scale fast and use the size of our business to drive a greater impact.

On Johnny Walker, for example, we have content that allows people to easily find the brand when they’re searching for gifts for friends and family. We learned fast from that about what content works, what media channels work and scaled that across the business.

How does Diageo work with agencies now that it buys some media in house?

JASON ACKER: A lot of our strategic thinking is still coming out of agencies. We need agencies to understand the ever-changing landscape. We need partners that are exposed to the consumer on a daily basis to help us understand where we should be buying media, and so we don’t self-absorb into one channel or another. But bringing certain aspects in house has definitely shown a good level of productivity for Diageo.

MASSEY: In other markets we’re reviewing the right model based on the maturity of the digital market, how much we’re investing and the availability of digital talent.

How do you structure your in-house team across brands?

MASSEY: We want to get to as close to the consumer as possible, so we need an in-house team that is fully integrated into our marketing team. How do we make sure digital talent is not sitting in a silo? That’s going to allow us to spot opportunities and do things faster.

Where is Diageo experimenting in its media mix?

MASSEY: When Bailey’s Almande was launched, we were the first advertiser to do voice-activated sampling. Through Alexa, you could order a sample to be delivered to your house the next day via Amazon Prime, or the same day in a highly populated area. That’s the kind of innovation we are now scaling up through the business.

Why did Diageo launch the Global Alliance for Responsible Media?

MASSEY: Every World Federation of Advertisers member I spoke to was actively tackling brand safety and ad fraud to make sure they were being responsible and respectful with their audience. We realized that we would identify better solutions and get there faster if we came together.

We’re really proud of our trusted marketplace program we launched a few years back at Diageo, but it’s a very fast-moving world. We know that if we partner, we cannot just tackle the current issues we’re seeing, but also get ahead.

What’s Diageo’s internal approach to brand safety?

MASSEY: There’s absolutely no negotiation that our ads should be seen by real humans of legal drinking age, responsibly targeted and in an appropriate contextual environment.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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