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The Buy-Side View: Q&A with Reckitt Benckiser’s Russell Ball

Tim Cross  22 January, 2020

In this edition of ‘Buy-Side View’, we speak with Russell Ball, global AV and media operations manager for hygiene and home at consumer goods multinational Reckitt Benckiser. In this interview, Ball discusses why he thinks advertisers need to return to focusing on the consumer experience and how it can be affected by the KPIs they set, and explains why he believes over-the-top (OTT) advertising is more about ‘incremental impact’ rather than ‘incremental reach’.

What is your biggest bugbear when it comes to video and OTT advertising?

I think there’s a race to scale and ramp up without sufficient testing and analysis. From a brand perspective, we have a responsibility to make sure we’re managing media budgets diligently and effectively. One of the beauties of programmatic is that it’s broken down some barriers when it comes to testing, which has been great for us.

One of my other bugbears is standardisation around reporting and metrics. We access multiple different inventory sources, and we want to be able to report on it in a holistic way and assess everyone and everything to the same standards. That has improved, and the walled gardens (Google, Facebook, Amazon) have opened up, but it’s still very much on their terms. We don’t get a like-for-like comparison across platforms and channels, which is very important for us when measuring effectiveness.

And lastly, the number of acronyms! OTT, SVOD, AVOD, ACR, CTV… it’s fine, but there seem to be new ones all the time. I don’t know whether we do it to make everything sound technical or intelligent. But you need to be able to discuss things when you’re reporting to senior stakeholders in a clear and easy to understand way. And all these acronyms make things more complicated than they need to be!

How much media buying – if any – are you carrying out in-house?

It’s a very small part of what we do today. I think there’s value there, not from reducing fees and costs, but from having that really transparent view of what you’re doing. But it’s only a small part of what we do.

We’re working very closely with our agency partners to make sure they’re using the right tools and technologies that we are all aligned with. We are gaining access to more insight than ever before which introduces many new questions, and our agencies are helping us answer those. There is tremendous expertise and experience within media agencies and it would be remiss to ignore that.

Which ad tech solution has delivered the most impact for your business?

I work very closely with DoubleVerify, and we’ve got a great relationship, they’re very aligned to our goals. We get regular updates from them, and they have a central team we liaise with.

Their data and insights have really helped us to reduce wastage, particularly with video. And they’ve been at the forefront of the Open Measurement SDK. That’s allowed us to test an area of inventory for video with huge scale, and we’ve seen very promising results. It’s very key for us, when we’re testing, to make sure our objectives are very clear, and everything is buttoned up.

Which do you think video advertising is the most effective for – generating awareness and brand-building, or driving short-term sales?

You can do both those things, but the deployment must match the objective.

In terms of awareness, it’s not the most compelling objective for me. We reposition it as more to do with education. We own large CPG brands where there’s good awareness already. But we want to help consumers understand how those brands can provide value to their everyday lives, and help some of the issues impacting society such as water scarcity.

As an example, we have a dishwasher detergent brand Finish. Most people aren’t aware that a dishwasher actually uses far less water per load compared to hand washing. A family of four could save over 14,000 litres of water each year, and if you’re using a dishwasher in eco mode, that minimises energy consumption too.

So we want to tell consumers that with Finish you can save water, but you’re also ensuring your dishes come out sparkling clean, and video is the most effective way to deliver that dual message. And that’s more of an education piece.

Are you investing in OTT advertising? How will the shift towards OTT change your TV buying strategy?

We have invested in OTT in several markets, and we’re testing around several objectives. And for RB there are some specific use cases for our brands which we’ll continue to test out.

I think today, OTT is very much a compliment to linear TV, as linear TV is still delivering large reach for a lot of our audiences. Linear TV still plays an incredibly important role for our brand as we speak to consumers today, as well as potential consumers of tomorrow.

People talk about OTT providing incremental reach, but I think it’s more about incremental impact. Of course it will help you reach new audiences, as well as ‘lost’ audiences which have cut the cord, which is big in the US. But OTT’s real power is its ability to do things which linear TV can’t, which at the moment means layering on data and additional targeting.

And the overall OTT landscape will have a big impact on us with the subscription services rolling out. Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime and the others are all not ad-supported environments, and they steal time away from the ad supported environments. But I’ve been pleased to hear a lot of the AVOD providers seem very confident about their long term prospects, especially where they’re able to deliver local content which the international SVOD giants don’t. I think AVOD will be a very compelling value exchange for consumers as the costs of subscriptions services mount up, and that’s great for brands and advertisers.

What could brands do to help clean up the industry?

What’s important for me is to focus on the consumer experience. Back when I ran campaigns for Sony Music, we would produce our spot times for TV and send them back to the clients. And they would know at 7.45 on a Wednesday, that they have the central break in Coronation Street, and they can watch their ad play out. That’s very satisfying, as an advertiser, to see that.

And later on when I was working for another media agency, I worked a lot with video game advertisers, and they would love having a homepage takeover on their launch date. Again, that was very satisfying for them, where they can see the campaign in action.

As we’ve moved into programmatic, we’ve focussed on the audience, and as long as we have signals of who they are and what they’re like, we can reach them around any sort of content. That’s very powerful and scalable. But it’s become much harder to know where our ads are being seen, and what the user experience is.

I think as advertisers and brands we have to do more, to reclaim that. So when we set KPIs, let’s understand what the impact will be on the end consumer. For example, think about viewability in video advertising, where we might demand X percent viewable for X seconds. What can happen then is vendors hack the experience to game the system, which you see with sticky video players in the bottom of your screen that follow you around as you scroll. That’s far from a great user experience, and it fuels sentiment around ad blocking.

So in the ideal world, we want the consumer to opt in to a ‘click-to-lay’ video, rather than some random video popping up where they aren’t expecting it. And as a brand we have a responsibility to understand how and where our ads are being displayed.

Which person in the industry inspires you the most today?

He’s not strictly in the video industry, but I’d say Scott Galloway. He’s a professor at NYU and he founded a research company that was sold to Gartner, plus he has a newsletter, a YouTube channel and a podcast. I have to admit I’m a bit of a fanboy. I love his commentary on the tech industry, he’s very insightful, and I tend to find myself agreeing with a lot of what he says. It’s always interesting to get his take on what the platforms are doing.

Out of all the video and TV advertising campaigns you’ve been involved with, which are you most proud of?

I wasn’t actively involved in this campaign, but our Turkey team produced some award winning work in partnership with Havas on Finish. It’s rare to see such a high level of native integration and all within one of the most watched TV shows in Turkey.

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