WPP CEO Martin Sorrell is fond of calling Google a “frenemy.” And he’s clearly taking steps to guard against domination.
One key backstop to the company’s plans is Fabric, the fledgling global platform product that it believes will make media buying, analytics and data management easier for the company’s clients. The goal is to create the “the standardization of marketing infrastructure on a global basis, the standardization of Web activities, and the standardization of data activities” across all marketing channels. Translation: If WPP doesn’t build tech tools to bring needed efficiency, Google will — and potentially cut agencies out.
“We don’t want to be dependent on technology companies — or rather, media owners masquerading as technology companies; we want to be independent of them,” said Sorrell in a recent briefing.
WPP must have the final say on the more than $70 billion in ad spend that they handle for clients such as Ford and Colgate, Sorrell said. According to Sorrell, maintaining that control is essential for the global ad ecosystem to work for their clients. The alternative, said Sorrell, is a landscape where agencies are tempted into media relationships that allow “incentive arrangements with media owners” to influence the shape of media buying and optimization strategy.
“Google is the obvious example,” Sorrell said. “We treat them still somewhat as a frenemy; there’s caution in the relationship to some extent.”
Sorrell plans to back up that bullish approach to independence with the expansion of Fabric, a global data-management, media-buying and analytics platform. Fabric purports to unify the data from each of its clients’ digital activities “to connect it to up to the minute patterns in what their consumers say, like and do.” Those insights are then used in targeted ad buys, across multiple marketing channels. Fabric was launched in October and will continue to expand in the U.S. and Europe, according to WPP. According to the company, four of their top 30 clients are using the platform.
According to Mark Read, CEO of WPP Digital, the problem with the current landscape is that it is far too complicated to work as it ought. The flood of data from new sources makes developing strategy increasingly difficult,”as technology gets easier for consumers to use it gets harder for brands and marketers to use,” said Read. That hinders not only the development of strategy, but its execution as well.
There’s also that matter of a cluttered ad tech market. It’s easier for WPP to create its own platform products for clients rather than to attempt to help them manage the hodgepodge of ad tech products on their own. Sorrell has referred to the many ad tech features in the market as difficult to navigate “as spaghetti.”
“Based on the recent IBM CMO study of more than 1,700 CMOs, they are daunted by the world of data, technology and fast-moving, newer channels,” said Brian Featherstonehaugh, CEO of OgilvyOne. “CMOs must now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the CIO to make sense of all of this.” Featherstonehaugh believes that “you need the IT person, the ad technology solution provider and the creative at the same table at the same time.”