Late last year, the decision-maker behind the world’s largest advertising budget made a pronouncement about the future of the industry. Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer for Procter & Gamble, heralded a new age of personalised relevant communication he calls ‘mass one to one’:
“It’s not as reliant on mass marketing, it’s not reliant on mass advertising, it’s much more reliant on connecting with her — and then him, because dad becomes part of that process. I think that’s the future.”
This fusion of intimacy and scale is to be delivered by personalised content, informed by data and enabled by technology. Not coincidentally, these were the three pillars of Sir Martin Sorrell’s vision for the future of agencies, adapting to service the needs of their biggest clients. At least before his ‘extraction’ from WPP.
Since then he said
which is the most recent reminder of the adage that our beliefs often seem tied to our business model.
Mr Pritchard understands that ‘mass one to one’ is direct marketing, not advertising, but his statement seems to belie his role as champion of P&G’s brands. Brands are not simply assemblages of customers’ experiences of companies because they exist at a sociocultural level. That’s why broadcast advertising has, historically, been so good at building brands: it exists in culture. When you see advertising, you intuitively understand that many other people are seeing it at the same time and it’s this sense, along with the reliable nature of that expensive signal, which allows a brand to have a set of loosely agreed upon meanings that drive defensible price premiums over time.
A vision of the future of advertising as direct marketing is, no doubt, driven by the measurable returns on investment that it allows for. In the most developed markets in the world, growth has sputtered since the financial crisis. In the absence of growth, which is the ultimate proposition of advertising, advertising spend has come under more intense scrutiny. The promise of mass reach and measurable returns is tantalizing to the financially oriented managers and shareholders of large corporations.