KimberlyClark

How Kimberly-Clark navigates a digital ecosystem where every ad platform is a walled garden

Deprecation of third-party cookies is a topic that has loomed large over Advertising Week, as marketers grapple with the sunsetting of a widely adopted tactic for engaging consumers online. Kimberly-Clark Corp., the owner of household brands like Huggies, Cottonelle and Kleenex, is investing in new ways to wrest more control over first-party data in response, a process that executives said is complicated and will require the organization to act more independently than it has in the past.

“It’s such a pivotal time for CPGs right now. CPGs are starting to double [down] on the importance of owning the consumer relationship,” Josh Blacksmith, senior director of global consumer relationships and engagement at Kimberly-Clark, said during a livestreamed conference session with Salesforce on Monday. “If we were to leave this, in perpetuity, in the hands of our retail partners, they’re sort of focused on the next transaction.”

It’s a seismic industry shift that is in some ways constricting the ad market, as the digital sector — now the dominant one by ad spend in the U.S. — sees its biggest players shore up their already-outsized strengths. Such changes could have a particularly sharp impact on the packaged goods category, which has historically depended on external partners as data sources and is also contending with a radical move toward e-commerce and direct-to-consumer services.

Adding another layer of complexity to the mix is the push by retailers to set up their own digital advertising businesses to rival the likes of Google, Facebook and especially Amazon. Walmart has quickly built out a marketing platform, adding an omnichannel analytics suite last summer, while other companies, including Target and Kroger, have similar offerings. Advertising Week, all-virtual this year due to the pandemic, has several sessions led by Walmart Media Group and an entire discussion track sponsored by