Agency Holding Companies' Series of Unfortunate Events

It’s a tough time to have a senior job on the agency holding company side. P&G exec Marc Pritchard’s call to arms to right the ship that is (digital) advertising was immediately followed by a P&G media review in Northwest Europe. And a number of further bombs have hit the bastion of 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 Web sites. 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.

Of course the answer is amazingly simple: Advertiser wants the 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: This is an amazing simplification of events. I have no firsthand knowledge of what happened).



Jaguar LandRover called for a global media pitch and resumed digital advertising once it figured out the what and the how of its badly misplaced (and mismanaged) digital advertising.

Can we blame agency holding companies? Sure! Even when all that is asked for is “cheap,” they really should guarantee that the advertising environment is at minimum not porn or a beheading.

In the olden days, when 80% of a budget went to TV, there were also advertisers just looking for cheap ratings. So they advertised throughout the night and in other less desirable time slots. The only occasional beheading occurred in the B movies that ran in those time slots. There was no porn.

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

Bob Liodice, the outspoken president and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) repeated 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 safeguards they should implement contractually and technically. Spoiler alert: even placing “safe bets” on A-listed Web sites only is no guarantee, as White Ops’ recent MethBot revelations have shown.

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

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

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