In Essays, Innovation

P&G’s announcement that it will cut more than $1 billion in ad spending with agencies, and do its marketing in-house, has the fingerprints of management consultants all over it.

As reported in the Financial Times, the news was confusing: On one hand, P&G’s chief brand officer blamed agencies for putting too many people between the brands and its customers, taking too long to get things done, and wasting money on “shiny objects” of digital advertising that don’t work.

But he also said that the company’s solution was to do the same things, only do them in-house.

The premise that such work would get done any better if P&G did it itself is just the sort of cognitive dissonance you can imagine management consultants whispering in the brand lead’s ear. There’s a Powerpoint presentation somewhere with arrows, boxes, and slides with titles touting innovation and, gasp, disruption, too.

It’s the wrong answer to the right question.

Big consumer products brands face an existential problem: They are the creations of command-and-control, one-way mass media that allowed marketers to assert premium value for imagined benefits.

Brands were defined by limited information and conversation about actual performance, and branding asserted emotional attributes instead.

Product X wasn’t really all that different from Product Y, but its creative marketing minds did a better job of claiming their offering made people happier, or worthy of social envy (or whatever), and then spent oodles of cash to put those messages in front of audiences that were captive and somewhat trusting.

It has taken a couple generations’ worth of experience for consumers to learn that their neighbors don’t give a hoot what vacuum cleaner they use, or car they drive; worse, when they do care, they care about real things, like actual functionality, along with environmental and employment policies, corporate positions on social issues, ingredients, and content from companies that doesn’t make wildly unsubstantiated claims of benefits or value.

Consumers don’t buy brands anymore; they buy entire businesses.

Ultimately, we make our purchase decisions based not on what comes from the imagination of P&G’s marketers, however imaginatively delivered, but rather on the input and opinions they get from one another, and from independent people or institutions they trust.

“Getting closer” to this truth doesn’t require an oscillation overthruster, or some other tech trick.

Ad agencies should have simply revealed it, however disruptive it would have been to their revenue models, and helped big ad spenders like P&G reimagine what they sold, not just how.

Swapping print magazine ads for funny video clips on Instagram was never going to solve anything.

Swapping agencies for the babble of management consultants won’t, either.

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