Agency Holding Companies’ Series of Unfortunate Events


It is quite the time to be in a senior job on the agency holding company side. After P&G’s Mark Pritchard call to arms to right the ship that is (digital) advertising was immediately followed by a P&G media review in North-West Europe, a number of further bombs have hit the bastion that is today’s agency holding companies’ business.

There were revelations from the UK that a whole host of advertisers there were, unbeknownst to them (and presumably their agencies) placing ads next to or within terrorist group operated web content and porn websites. Headlines like “Advertisers support terrorist websites” were all over the news, and a number of UK advertisers placed a temporary halt on all digital advertising so that they could figure out how this had happened?

The answer is of course amazingly simple: Advertiser wants cheapest rates. Agency trading desk says “have we got a deal for you!” Agency places ads for pennies into a whole range of low cost dark pools. Jaguar ad shows up next to a beheading video. Awesome! (disclaimer: amazing simplification of events. I have no firsthand knowledge of what happened).

Jaguar LandRover resumed digital advertising once they figured out the what and the how of their badly misplaced (and mismanaged) digital advertising, but also announced a global media pitch (they stated that this pitch was part of the normal course of reviewing all aspects of their business, but the timing is – at minimum – interesting).

Can we blame the agency holding companies? Sure! They really should, even when all that is asked for is “cheap”, guarantee that the advertising environment is at minimum not porn or a beheading. Agencies are the custodians of their clients’ money, and are typically hired to improve the clients’ business in terms of sales and reputation. Porn or beheadings do little for either.

And can we blame advertisers? Sure, because they should have foresight and oversight into where their ad budgets are going. The only ones who we can’t blame are the operators of the websites who have cleverly found a way to monetize the worst of humanity. And porn.

Bob Liodice, the outspoken President and Chief Executive Officer of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) repeated Mark Pritchard’s words in an interview, and stated that marketers really should own up to the fact that they are directing billions of dollars into digital advertising with incredibly little understanding of how that particular food chain works and what kind of safe guards you must implement contractually and technically when you do direct your budgets into digital advertising. Spoiler alert: even placing “safe bets” on A-listed websites only is no guarantee, as WhiteOpps recent MethBot revelations have shown.

Liodice also argued that he kind of expects that the current investigation by the Department of Justice into bad production practices by the agency holding companies will expand to media. Why? Because some bad hombres on the agency side may have duped the government’s ad production budget owners, which, if confirmed following the investigation from the subpoenas to all agency holding companies, will also highlight the findings of the ANA into media practices. Bob says that “there may be some knocks on doors” as a result.

We will discuss all this (and perhaps more) this week at OMMA in Atlanta with a panel I am leading entitled “The Transparency Challenge…Or Opportunity?” Let’s see which way we the pendulum is swinging.

And if you are a marketer who would like to take the ANA’s wise words on board, come and have a chat with us. We have supported many marketers ambitions to figure out a better way to connect with their consumers, coupled with a better structured and contracted agency eco-system. There are no 100% guarantees in the digital world, but there are many, very necessary steps marketers can take to build a safer and more productive approach to marketing and advertising.



[Maarten is a featured contributor to MediaPost, this article was originally published here]

1 Comment

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