The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has informed members that the FBI is investigating media buying and trading practices in the US - a move which will cause waves in the industry and likely expedite marketers' demands for transparency.
The ANA marked the probe as a “significant” event to the industry and informed members how to best conduct themselves with media buying now under the spotlight. This builds on how ANA and K2 Intelligence previously highlighted how “non-transparent business practices” like undisclosed rebates are commonplace deals.
Bob Liodice, chief executive of the advertising trade organisation, confirmed that federal investigators contacted the group’s legal counsel Reed Smith LLP to help the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York to build a case.
The ANA outlined that its role was merely to inform its members about the investigation. Its comms will reach around 1,000 companies comprising some 25,000 brands. Founded in 1910, it is the US’ oldest advertising body but now accounts for some $400bn in US ad and marketing spend.
Now the ANA will assist the authorities through the media buying quagmire and help inform companies whom believe they were defrauded how to best connect with the investigation. It added it believes there may “hundreds of potential victims” of ad fraud within its membership.
The Wall Street Journal in September outlined that the investigation was set to open and that subpoenas were being issues to involved parties. The FBI will first attempt to outline which advertisers have been defrauded. Members are advised to retain counsel at their own cost and to audit spending and historic contracts
They are free whether they will cooperate with the FBI or take no action whatsoever.
This comes during a period where trust between agencies and brands is taking a hit as marketers increasingly demand to know where their ads are being placed, who is seeing them, and receive transparent reports into the spend.
Liodice said: “While we view the FBI’s investigation as important, the ANA itself cannot provide help to the FBI other than to share communication or information with our members. The ANA will not play a coordinating role on decisions or information between or among member companies and will not be a conduit between the FBI and member companies regarding individual company information. The FBI is aware of our communication with members and has requested we do so in order to obtain assistance.”
ANA research had previously found that 60% of agencies were taking steps to increase media transparency.