With the Association of National Advertisers' (ANA) set of guidelines on agency transparency released on Monday, the message is clear: While agencies may be playing fast and loose, advertisers need to step up and take more responsibility for their relationships with media agencies.
This was a follow-up to the K2 Intelligence report published in June that found non-transparent media buying practices were “pervasive” among agencies, with 59 out of 117 media buyers surveyed saying they were directly involved in some sort of non-transparent buying practices. K2 defined non-transparent media practices as things like the issuing of rebates (in the form of cash, free media, debt forgiveness and equity), principal-based transactions, or agencies holding equity stakes in media suppliers.
The latest report, conducted by marketing analytics firm Ebiquity and its subsidiary, FirmDecisions, focuses on contractual obligations and offers a contract template, which it suggests be signed annually by the agency or the holding company CFO. The report doesn’t specifically detail how often agencies should audit their media partners. Advertisers need to ensure contracts are being honored, which means doing their own due diligence.
Notably, and most relevant to the programmatic and real-time spheres, the report recommends that advertisers should take responsibility for their own data and technology. That means they need to own it. Currently, media agencies and other partners, including ad-tech firms, manage data and technology like ad-serving tools for advertisers.
Think of all the relationships an advertiser has with respect to programmatic media and real-time analytics and technologies: media agencies, media agencies’ cohorts and partners including trading desks, demand-side platforms (DSPs), data management platforms (DMPs), supply-side platforms (SSPs), individual publishers and their representatives, mega platforms like Facebook and Google, and more.
The report states that if advertisers are unable to manage these relationships, they should have “unimpeded access to the platforms, tools and data used on their behalf throughout the programmatic trading process … without having to get access or permission from the advertiser’s media agency or trading desk.”
These relationships, tools, and platforms were supposed to make advertisers’ lives easier by offloading the burden of managing technology related to ad serving, targeting, optimization, media buying, and more. Perhaps the report findings will tip the scales in favor of more marketers taking programmatic, along with related technologies and processes, in-house. Of course, many aren’t prepared to do this and rely heavily on their media agencies and specialists to help them. Will the report change this?