May 26, 2016

Ad Crooks Going To Jail? What To Look For.

According to several reports, the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) report about agency "transparency" (read, misconduct) is due in the next few weeks.

Some background: Over three years ago, in a piece called "Time To Clean Out The Stables" I advocated for an investigation of fraud and corruption in online media buying.

About a year ago, this issue finally surfaced as a hot topic. The ANA decided to hire two organizations (including one that employs former FBI agents) to investigate media buying practices. Since then things have gotten a little testy between the 4As (American Assoc. of Advertising Agencies) and the ANA. The degree of distrust between the organizations may play an important part in determining just how much of the report is the real deal and how much is PR fluff.

Remember, agencies are not hired and overseen by god. They are hired and overseen by the same people who are now having them investigated. There may turn out to be an element of self-interest in the ANA rounding off the sharp edges of their investigation.

The big questions are these: If there is corruption, how widespread is it and how far will the ANA report go in exposing it? One thing to look for is how specific the report is.
1. If the report talks about unsavory practices but does not name agency names, you know we're in for some mealy-mouth horseshit.

2. If the report talks about "grey areas" and "transparency" but does not give specific examples of double-dealing by specific agencies, it's a whitewash.

3. If the report tries to "contextualize" the sleaze (like the pathetic trade press does) by saying online ad fraud is nothing more than a continuation of traditional questionable habits, you know it's a bullshit burrito.
The ANA has a lot to gain and a lot to lose.

Advertisers have been played for fools by crafty agency sharks. But advertisers -- and CMOs in particular -- are not blameless. They have been irresponsibly negligent and laughably naive about the insidious nature of how online advertising has evolved. Their idiotic fervor for anything digital has been a contributing factor to the debased culture of web media.

This report may turn out to be a turning point for the agency business and for digital advertising.

I am assiduously averse to making predictions (I specialize in making fun of fools who make predictions, not being one) but in this case I'm going to play the fool. I'm going to predict a nightmare for the ad industry.

It will all come down to how willing the ANA is to get everything out on the table.

Will their report be a slap on the wrist or a kick in the low-hanging fruit?

I can't wait to see it.

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