“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Jason Wulfsohn, cofounder and COO at AudienceX.
Over the past five years at seemingly every major industry conference, P&G’s Global Marketing Officer Marc Pritchard has gone on stage and issued a powerful challenge to the ad tech and programmatic ecosystem.
Often taking aim at walled gardens, Pritchard, spokesperson for the world’s largest advertiser, has positioned his company as an almost omniscient voice representing not only their interests, but the interests of all marketers. When P&G calls for transparency in the supply chain, pulls out of YouTube, or ditches the Upfronts, it is widely interpreted as a signal for where marketers are going.
Is this a fair assumption? Marketers are a broad and diverse cohort and few (actually, none) of them have the budgets and therefore the leverage that Marc has behind him. To be fair, Marc is the chairman of the ANA, and it is his responsibility to advocate for that top tier of advertiser. But his comments still have a powerful effect on setting the agenda for the entire buy-side of the industry.
It’s time we pause and consider whether the priorities of the Fortune 50 advertisers really matter for everyone else.
Focus on Results, Not Drama
Advertising discourse is consumed with big trends and controversial tensions: data independence vs. the power of walled gardens, the deprecation of third party cookies and the loss of mobile advertising IDs (MAIDs), the rise of a new privacy regime in GDPR and CCPA, the fate of the government's antitrust actions, the ad tech tax, the basic definition of what constitutes a CDP. To this list, P&G might add the terms of upfront contracts, the accuracy of multi touch attribution, or access to log level data.
It’s all important. But the deeper reality is that most marketers neither know much nor care much about any of these issues. These are interesting topics to debate, but seldom do they touch upon the marketer’s real objectives. What concerns advertising luminaries like Marc Pritchard does not always reflect the daily experience of people in the advertising business.
The majority of advertising budgets live within middle market businesses, a somewhat misleading term for any company with between $10 million - $1 billion in revenues. The middle market is half of the US economy, as vast as it is diverse, and the marketers accountable for those revenues care about one thing to the exclusion of almost anything else: performance.
For most marketers, performance is not an abstract notion - it is a set of definable, comprehensible business outcomes. They have little time or patience for debates that don’t result in an actionable insight for how to drive better results.
Dollars Are Un-opinionated
Marketers don’t much care where the performance comes from. Facebook, Google and Amazon have risen to their dominant positions because they deliver reliable performance with platforms that are as easy to use and dependable as they are powerful and sophisticated. Working with these walled garden platforms comes with real and well-documented tradeoffs. But few marketers from the middle market spend enough money for these tradeoffs (particularly in the form of data transparency) to really register.
Open web programmatic needs to learn from this example. Instead of rushing to accommodate the custom needs of the Fortune 50, the ad tech ecosystem should focus on meeting the middle market’s demand for seamless and consistent performance. That’s where the stability and long term staying power for ad tech lies: in serving the hundreds of thousands of outcome-oriented advertisers and ignoring the high-profile grandstanding of the Fortune 50s.
This may be a good strategy, too: platforms that become too dependent on winning major advertiser’s business have put their businesses on a shaky foundation and have signed up for endless cycles of customization and tailored services. Facebook, Google, and Amazon can lose all the top advertisers without any discernible impact on their business.
Marketers should disregard the majority of debates that dominate the panels at IAB ALM, the ANA, 4A s, etc and keep their focus where it is today: on driving sustainable outcomes. They shouldn’t care about where that performance comes from. If we, in the programmatic ecosystem, are too distracted by our internal debates to deliver that performance, then the fault lies with us.
Marc Pritchard is unquestionably a smart guy, and there’s a lot we can all learn from his point of view and P&G’s example - but he doesn’t speak for the needs of marketers. What speaks for them are their marketing dollars, and dollars are remarkably un-opinionated. They will always vote for what works.
The best thing marketers can do is think about their customers’ needs - rather than Fortune 50 advertisers and their pervasive discontents.