The Role of Advertisers in Shaping Digital Ecosystems

Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s long-serving Chief Brand Officer, on how P&G helped create the modern digital media ecosystem:

when we first worked with them they were platforms for communication with people. They had no advertising business. We essentially worked with Facebook to figure out how to place media, how to do reach and frequency, within Facebook.

YouTube came along, and we thought this could be interesting. Not sure where it’s going to go, [but we] ended up monetizing it. What’s interesting about that is that [the founders of Facebook and YouTube] didn’t build these platforms for advertising. Some of the challenges that they’ve had recently, I think, have been because they were built for another purpose. Whereas other media companies, the TV and the radio, they started off and they built advertising in.

I’m not sure that the advertising business model is inherent to either TV or radio, but overall Mr. Pritchard is correct: digital information environments such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube weren’t designed primarily to persuade. The advertising-based business model they’ve latched on to (in part driven by demand from clients such as P&G) has created incentives that have harmed society as a whole.

That said, P&G recognizes that it has great power as one of the world’s leading advertisers, and has been taking steps to wield that power responsibly:

10 years ago [P&G] went down a purpose path. When I first started my job we had purpose-inspired, benefit-driven brands. What was interesting about that though, is that it was too disconnected from our business. Over the course of the last few years what we’ve done is we’ve gone back in at it, we’ve really become a citizenship platform. We’re building social responsibility into the business. It includes gender equality, community impact and environmental sustainability based on a foundation of ethics and responsibility.

Laudable! But what happens if/when tough choices are called for? If it came to it, would the company be willing to sacrifice growth and profit for sustainability?

The Biggest Voice In Advertising Finds Its Purpose