The ANA And The 4A’s Clash Over Media Transparency Guidelines

4AsThe Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (the 4A’s) are divided over how to shed light on issues of transparency and agency rebates.

The two trade groups – the ANA representing brands and the 4A’s representing agencies – collaborated last spring by forming a working group of about 15 brand and agency participants called the Media Transparency Task Force.

But late Thursday, the 4A’s issued its own set of transparency guidelines without the ANA. On Friday, the ANA called the 4A’s efforts a failure to “fully or adequately reflect the best interests of marketers.”

The ANA stated: “The guidelines are premature, and continued attention is needed to address the lack of industry transparency that the ANA has highlighted for the last four years.”

It also called for the removal of ANA member company names from the 4A’s working group list, saying it implied endorsement by those brands.

The 4A’s president and CEO Nancy Hill denied this claim. “Including the names of the companies was not intended to imply endorsement, rather it was out of respect for their participation in the task force,” she said in a statement to AdExchanger. “We decided to move forward because we believe the outstanding work that was done deserved to be put out into the marketplace.” 

Disagreements over terminology and what depth of detail around contractual agreements should/should not be included in the guidelines allegedly led to a breakdown in communication between the two groups.

The groups reached an “impasse” in December, when the ANA and 4A’s disagreed over whether to push forth with a preliminary draft of guidelines or to wait until spring when independent auditors hired by the ANA had concrete data and findings to share.

“Even if you’re getting down to the ‘ofs, ifs, ands’ in guidelines, you do it with such great precision and care that the principles are clear, forceful and understood by all parties forevermore,” Bob Liodice, president and CEO of the ANA, told AdExchanger. “We didn’t feel like it was clear enough, bold enough or robust enough, especially around audit rights so that marketers knew what they needed to do to follow their money or investments.”

But the writing had been on the wall since October when the ANA, seemingly on its own accord, hired K2 Intelligence and Ebiquity/FirmDecisions to probe key industry constituents – from agencies to publishers and advertisers.

While these efforts were supposed to buttress the transparency task force’s joint effort, some say the 4A’s didn’t have much input. The ANA simply noted at the time that it “looked forward to sharing K2’s findings with our colleagues at the American Association of Advertising Agencies.”

“Because we didn’t want to get into fistfights over anything that didn’t have any grounding at this point, we wanted to simply wait for the report in the spring,” Liodice said of the 4A’s early guideline release. “We did try to work with the 4A’s, but as far as what the industry needs to know – we said early on that we would find out in late spring whether everything is clean and fine or we’ve got problems as an industry.”

Hill countered: “Our members have been waiting for this guidance for a very long time and, we didn’t feel we could hold off any longer.”

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  1. Vladimir

    It’s interesting how advertising agencies are the only ones required to show total transparency. Do brands show their consumers how much the ingredients in their products cost? I doubt it. If brands don’t like one agency’s offering or price, they can just go and shop elsewhere. I don’t understand why agencies should adhere to standards brands themselves don’t apply in their own business.

    • I get the analogy and why agencies may want to keep some details confidential.

      Brands do list all the ingredients on the packaging of all consumer products (like a can of Coke). They are required by law to do so.

      Agencies do not disclose all such ‘ingredients’ to advertisers. They may be able to get away with not revealing how much anything is, but the secret kickbacks and rebates are still kept secret.