This past week, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) updated its Master Media Buying Services Agreement Template. It was created after the 2016 K2/Ebiquity work to map the money streams on the media agency side. This work was commissioned by the ANA following the 2015 revelations by then former Mediacom USA CEO John Mandell during an ANA conference. He shared at the time that “alternate” media agency income streams and arbitrage buys were widespread.
This week, the ANA released the third iteration of the template, adding language addressing issues of artificial intelligence and diversity, equity, and inclusion. It also updated and refined the language around audits and so called “non-transparent services."
The ANA can be forgiven for not having very definitive guidance on AI, because who knows what will be possible next week? It simply tells advertisers they need to maintain control over the decision-making process of whether to include any kind of AI solutions in any part of the agency development process. I think that is right.
On DEI, the template suggests marketers ensure measurable, contractual KPIs to track performance of DEI initiatives. It is important to remind ourselves that the concept of DEI can be included both in how marketers portray their products/services, as well as in who produces, photographs, copy-writes, animates, etc. the message. Tracking against objectives is always smart.
Finally, on audits and transparency, the ANA produces two important updates. The first one addresses the inclusion of so-called “non-transparent services.” This beautiful term basically covers (mostly) media placement through platforms where marketers have zero, nada, zilch decision-making power on where, through what technology and at what price the ads are being placed.
In the meantime, most advertisers know that partaking in this strategy might indeed deliver (very) cheap impressions that will look great on your media buying performance spreadsheet, and – if you allow it – will certainly pull down your average cost per impression, but is the equivalent of eating “empty calories.” Most if not all impressions will be placed around content you don’t want or like, never to be be viewed by human eyes -- and, in all likelihood, your ad dollars will disappear in the pockets of very shady operators (minus the agency’s commission).
Writes Bill Duggan, Group Executive Vice President of the ANA: “To address these concerns, the template includes a robust approvals process with information that the agency must provide in their approval request, as well as reporting requirements for non-transparent services by media channel.” In other words, what they are recommending is an “eyes-wide-open” approach for advertisers,which I wholeheartedly approve.
Finally -- and sadly, a much-needed update that should not be necessary at all -- there is additional language for auditing your media agency. Agencies have long tried to say “sure, you can audit our books,” knowing full well that the books available to advertisers had little to do with the actual money streams and deals that fund the agency. What media agencies allowed was to audit invoicing between the agency and the advertiser. What advertisers want is a (forensic) media audit of deals, commitments, cost, delivery, transparency, etc. These are typically well beyond the scope of a simple CPA audit. The new language clarifies that both should be contractually possible, thank you very much.
The ANA should be commended for keeping the industry honest -- or at least making an effort to do so.