My frustration at the challenges of digital marketing and media transparency are well-documented, as is my call to action to all parties to meaningfully come together and think through some of the challenges.
So it was with bated breath that I fired up my trusted Tweetdeck last week full of optimism about the anticipated deluge of industry-challenging and industry-reforming tweets inspired by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's) get-together in Miami.
It started promisingly with Nancy Hill, President and CEO of the 4A’s, mincing no words and calling out the issues head-on. Gender and minority inequality, pay inequality; she called a spade a spade. But then she talked about the 4A’s release of Transparency Guidelines in January, which has caused a massive rift with the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). Hill called it a mere “disagreement over language and timing,” while a month ago the ANA called it “incomplete” and “rogue” and demanded a full retraction. I wrote about the issues here, if you need your memory refreshed.
So the tone was set: Agencies need to address their people issues, but the biggest, most divisive industry issue is nothing more than a “disagreement.”
Sadly, Hill was not alone. Enter Sir Martin Sorrell, via video link. He addressed all the inequality and sexism issues straight up, and showed both in words (on a diverse workforce, he said that the number of “LGBT, transgender, Hispanic [staffers]" is "unacceptably low”) and actions (he appointed Tamara Ingram as J. Walter Thompson's new CEO, having a woman replace an embattled male CEO) that his leadership is prepared to do the right thing.
And then Sorrell too, moved on to the transparency issue. He said that — and please try not to laugh out loud when you read this — he "does not see the point" of the ANA’s efforts to bring clarity and/or proof into allegations of agency kickbacks. As a much-better, more-trustworthy alternative to an industry-supported investigation, he said that WPP is addressing these concerns internally. Hey! I told you not to laugh!
He went on to say: "In the case of media buying, programmatic and online, we have changed our approach,” noting that
WPP now offers an opt-in model for its clients so they can decide if they want to participate, and to what degree of transparency.
“Opt-in”! That is what Bernard Madoff offered: an opt-in. That's what those email scam artists offer.
So here we are, about a month away from the annual ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference on May 1, where presumably the ANA will present its findings from its year-long investigation into all the allegations. This is the investigation the 4A’s initially participated in, until the ANA proposed that the findings should inform the language of future client-agency contracts. “No thanks," said the 4A’s. “I think we’re going to go with an opt-in model and some vague guidelines of our own. So we’re good.” A mere “disagreement” over language.
To quote a millennial: “This is like, so… I can’t even…” I call myself a naïve optimist. But you’re making it hard, 4A’s. You’re making it really hard!