October 26, 2015

Will The ANA Investigation Become A Stunt?

After reflecting on it a little, I'm thinking that the investigation launched last week by the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) into the dealings of media agencies has the potential to turn into a feeble stunt.

I don't think it's any secret that the ANA and the globalized agency holding companies are a little cozy.

A lot of the agency boys were hand-picked by the client boys. Overfed corporate types on both sides tend to be cut from the same mold. They don't like to see their fraternity brothers getting into too much hot water.

There are three ways this investigation could go.

First, it could uncover nothing. This is the ideal outcome that would clear the industry of any responsibility for fraud, sleaze, or corruption. While I am certain that most agencies are principled and do not screw their clients, I am equally certain that there are others who are not so principled. My assessment of the probability of this investigation turning up no wrong-doing: between zero and nothing.

Second, the investigation could turn up evidence of criminal behavior. The reference to former FBI agents in the stories last week implied that this was possible.

I believe the chances of this happening are very small. The issue here is definitions - what constitutes a criminal act as opposed to just plain sleaze is often hard to define.

The U.S. government, as a rule, expects businesses to keep a careful eye on their own money and doesn't generally display much sympathy for big, stupid corporations who get fleeced by sharpies. I'd say the odds of government agencies stepping in are very low unless a clear pattern of criminality is established. I doubt this is the case. These hot-shot agency boys are crafty and duplicitous but they're not criminals. At least I hope not.

The third and most likely outcome will be that the ANA investigation will turn up a shitload of hanky-panky, but no criminal behavior. They will find that some agencies have found new and creative ways to use clients' money and/or value to feather their own nests. And have been putting their own interests ahead of their clients'.

But let's be realistic here. The ANA members have some face to save and some boneheadedness to hide, too. As I've been ranting for years, advertisers have been asleep at the wheel. Their naiveté about online sleaze has been a clown show of epic proportions.

Aristocratic suckers don't usually like to be publicly exposed. I doubt they're going to want the world to see how timidly they were led to the slaughter.

They'll probably slap the hands of their pals in the holding companies. They'll "insist" on more "transparency." A few heads may roll and an account or two may change hands.

But what we'll get will be carefully crafted PR. I doubt we'll ever get the full story.

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