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Diageo is latest major media buyer to call time on the digital advertising free-for-all

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Diageo, which owns major drinks brands including Guinness, Smirnoff and Baileys, has put digital media on notice that it is going to be far more discerning where its spends its advertising budget in future, listing some mandatory rules that it will apply to its media planning globally. Speaking at Future TV Advertising Forum yesterday, Ben Sutherland, Chief Digital Officer at Diageo, revealed the requirements, including: Zero tolerance of ad-fraud; Strict brand protection; Minimum viewability of 70% (of the advertisement being viewed); The requirement that viewing environments comply with legal purchase age (i.e. if the legal age for drinking is 18, then only over-18s should see alcohol ads); Transparent pricing models; Measurement of viewability (preferably using Moat tags).

In a speech that was clearly aimed at non-television digital media, Sutherland explained his role as the guardian of brands that took hundreds of years to build, and his determination that they are not going to be undermined by brand-safety issues and also sub-optimal media spend that stems from ad-fraud and a lack of supply-chain transparency. He pointed out that media buying was one of the biggest line items on the Diageo accounts and he declared: “We have questions to answer to our investors and I think the Internet has some questions to answer about how we monetise impressions respectfully.”

Sutherland is worried about how much of his digital media spend reaches real humans who are watching, and viewing for a decent amount of time, within the correct context. Picking up on an earlier presentation showing the upward trajectory of digital advertising, he told the London conference: “It is not a foregone conclusion that this shift in money will continue [from traditional to digital media].”

Sutherland is focused on creating what he calls a trusted marketplace for Diageo buying. The ex-TV buyer took up what was a new role at the company a year ago and since then Diageo has made significant investments to understand the TV and digital marketplace better. He admitted that he wished he had pushed towards the new ‘trusted marketplace’ requirements faster and harder. He emphasises that the new requirements will be enforced from the centre so that “no decisions are made in local markets that would have implications for the value and equity of our brands.”

On the issue of transparency, he pointed out that Diageo knows everything about the supply chain that produces the cream used in Baileys (the whisky/cream liqueur), right down to the field where the cows are grazed, what they have eaten and the weight of the milk produced. “Why should our media supply chain be any different?” he asked.

Sutherland made it clear that he is happy to support media that audiences are shifting to, providing he can reach eyeballs using the ‘trusted marketplace’ guidelines. Diageo’s ambition is to be the most trusted, respected and high performance CPG (consumer packaged goods) brand collection in the world. “That requires relevant and contextual messaging that drives a positive choice towards the brands,” he told Future TV Advertising Forum.

Without naming anyone, Sutherland said online-based partners had “been a bit passive” about the importance of context. He is hoping for the “maturation of certain businesses and how they operate, and the seriousness with which they build safety mechanisms into their platform.” Google took the hint and later at the same conference apologised to advertisers over brand-safety problems and promised that it was ‘on it’, having tasked its AI (artificial intelligence) engineers with proactively recognising bad content and keeping it off the ‘platform’.

Sutherland noted the importance of young adults and live events viewing to the Diageo media plan and warned that a loss of those audiences from TV would force him to consider moving money elsewhere, like into event-based activities. Thus, both TV and digital were put on notice that there is a ‘third-way’ that will be explored if media as a whole falls short.

However, the predominantly TV audience will have been cheered by his comments overall. While it is his job to understand the opportunity that a shift of eyeballs into digital represents, he also feels that the effect of that shift has been massively over-stated.

“I spend the majority of my time looking at the effectiveness of channels rather than where the eyeballs are going, and if you look at the forecasts [for audiences] it has to be offset with an understanding of effectiveness.”

He added: “We spend a lot of money and we are massively under-leveraged on media. The diminishing returns we see across our channels now argue the case that we should put as much money into television as into digital.”

Focusing on context, he added: “I am interested in how we are providing relevant and contextual messaging and how that is going to drive behaviour, so that someone is more likely to choose one of my brands when they go out for a beer or a Gin & Tonic. I want them to make a positive choice towards our brands.”

“Viewability means you can get hold of people pretty much anywhere but the point, more and more, is whether they want to be talking to us there. We have to be incredibly respectful of our consumers.”


Editor’s comment

Diageo can be added to the growing list of media buyers who are becoming far more cautious about how they use born-online digital media. We hear privately from major buyers and sales houses that, in Europe and the U.S., change is in the air. What is most encouraging for the TV industry is the fact that this goes beyond brand-safety and beyond transparency and is about effectiveness (although transparency and effectiveness of digital media are linked).

As you can read in this story from our sister publication, Mediatel Newsline, Sam Gaunt, Head of Media at Lidl UK, thinks digital struggles when compared to traditional media like TV, radio and print if you apply sophisticated econometrics to determine value for money. His company has scaled back its digital investments while it tries to get a better view of what digital channels work for the company.

Photo: Ben Sutherland at Future TV Advertising Forum

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