The ANA – A First Stab

(A shorter version of this post appeared on Mediatel’s Newsline on 7th June)

The first of two ANA reports has landed, containing the results of 150 interviews conducted by the investigators K2 with ‘marketers, media suppliers, ad tech vendors, current and former advertising and media agency professionals, trade association executives, industry consultants, attorneys, barter company employees, and post-production professionals’.

All were conducted anonymously; 5 out of the top 6 holding companies withheld their current executives from interview, although K2 did interview several ex-holding company executives. IPG, long a supporter of total transparency in all things is the one company that did collaborate.

One can only speculate as to why most of the holding companies chose not to allow their staff to participate.

Their stated reason – that the ANA should have conducted a collaborative investigation involving their trade body the 4A’s – doesn’t make any sense. Why would you conduct an investigation into suspected wrong-doing alongside a body representing those organisations you suspect of the wrong-doing? How could anyone believe the outcome of such an investigation?

No names are included within this report, which has led the agencies, and even the AdContrarian to conclude that the whole industry is being damned, the innocent with the presumed guilty.

K2’s conclusions are not good for the agencies. Rebates and non-transparent practices are found to exist, and to be ‘pervasive’. Not isolated, not occasional lapses, but ‘pervasive’.

As damning is the conclusion that ‘media buyers (sic) were sometimes pressured or incentivized by their agency holding companies to direct client spend to this media, regardless of whether such purchases were in the clients’ best interests’.

In other words planners are told to spend money in certain channels that deliver benefits to the agency even if such channels are not right for the client.

This chimes with what Jon Mandel said last year (his speech too was based on interviews with those in the industry).

Anyone with even a fleeting relationship with agency planners (even bloggers) knows this happens. It’s hard to argue that this behaviour is strictly non-contractual, unless you believe as many do that agencies have a general obligation to serving their clients’ best interests, whether defined within a contract or not.

The WSJ had already leaked some of the findings before the ANA big reveal, a significant point given that the WSJ’s core audience is the CEO’s whose businesses employ agencies, and whose budgets sustain all ad-supported media channels. This is a story that will get attention in the Boardroom.

As the agencies’ mainline of defence looks like it’s going to be that everything they have done is in line with their contracts, those signing those contracts could be in for an uncomfortable few weeks.

Agency contracts may seem designed to confuse and to allow them (the agencies) a pretty free hand. That though is no excuse for waving these things through or for not reviewing them for many years.

Those agencies who have commented to date have accused the ANA of a range of sins. A Publicis statement said: “The ANA has failed its members, advertisers, agencies and the entire industry by releasing a report that relies on allegations about situations involving unnamed companies and individuals to make broad, unsubstantiated and unverifiable assertions”.

Had Publicis and others collaborated the report might perhaps have been less ‘broad, unsubstantiated and unverifiable’.

The 4A’s (the US agency trade body) said: “The immense shortcomings of the K2 report released today – anonymous, inconclusive, and one-sided – undercut the integrity of its findings”.

That is frankly ridiculous. K2 conducted 150 interviews. No doubt they would have liked to have done more but 5 out of 6 of the top holding companies, the backbone of the 4A’s membership refused to collaborate. And now their trade body is saying the findings, the picture emerging from 150 individual interviews is ‘one-sided’.

… read on at

Originally posted by Brian Jacobs on The Cog Blog at BJ&A
9th June 2016

See also here the second episode of The Ad Contrarian Show, a podcast recently launched by Bob Hoffman. He talks about the ANA report just before it was published and will no doubt be returning to the subject in the weeks and months to come.