September 18, 2017

The Pritchard Problem

Marc Pritchard -- chief brand officer at the world's largest advertiser, P&G -- has done the advertising industry a great service over the past 15 months.

He is the first grown-up to acknowledge head-on the awfulness of online advertising as it is currently being practiced. Of course, some of us less-than-grown-ups have been writing about it for years, but very little attention is paid to the chirping of people without a $2.4 billion ad budget.

Pritchard has spoken unambiguously about the problems of a murky and often corrupt system of buying and selling online advertising; the scourge of ad fraud; the problem of viewability; the opaque financial dealings of agencies; the issue of brand safety; the head-spinning number of third-party toll takers standing between advertisers and publishers; and the arbitrary and unreliable methods used for measuring ad delivery. He has done an admirable job and deserves praise.

If you're an astute reader you probably feel a "but" coming, and here it comes.

But as far as I can determine Mr. Pritchard has neglected to say a word about the single factor that enables most of these issues - tracking.

Essentially, there is only one thing that differentiates online advertising from all other forms -- and makes it both susceptible to the types of appalling mischief we've experienced and dangerous to a free society -- the relentless tracking of every one of us online.

Advertising used to be about imparting information. Online advertising has become equally about collecting information.

In a recent article, Marketing Week says "Pritchard believes that next generation will be mass one-to-one marketing. That is the promise digital has always held, but so far it has failed to live up to it."

We know what 'mass one-to-one marketing' means, don't we? It means more surveillance marketing, more tracking, more despicable "ad tech."

If Mr. Pritchard really wants to do something valuable -- not just for our industry, but for society -- he will put his influence behind this issue.

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