Advertising: Who Cares?

The craft of advertising faces a crisis. And without the craft the business per se is in trouble, adrift in a sea of creative and media sameness without verifiable, solid data to cling on to.

Consider low levels of viewability and attention, ad fraud, MFA sites, unverified (and often unbelievable) audience data, agencies who make more money from their suppliers than from their clients (thus threatening the very objectivity they’re hired for in the first place), bland creative generated by AI, and an audience that increasingly resents our work.

Articles, speeches and tweets from those who make money at arm’s length from the actual advertising, whilst not caring a jot for anything except short-term revenue, are everywhere.

Nick Manning, ex Manning Gottlieb and Ebiquity, and I share concerns over this sorry state of affairs.

We see two choices.

Write yet another article, give another conference speech, and accept the headlines whilst knowing in our hearts that nothing will change.

Or at least to try to start to change things for the better.

It is easy to dismiss us as two old gits, whose time of influence within the industry is past and who now can do little else except meet up for a moan.

This would be true but for one rather inconvenient fact. There are many who seem to agree with us who are neither old nor past it but who are worried. Most feel unable, and literally cannot afford to speak out.

Nick and I care about the ad business. We don’t care about pay checks, future jobs or mortgages.

So, as planners, we’ve hatched a plan.

There are a number of inconvenient truths in adland.

The first is most of us know what’s going on. Yet no-one in any position to influence anything talks about the issues.

Take media agencies. Here we should acknowledge those independents who have for years made transparency in media selection and fees a point of difference from the networks. Valuable though they are, it’s the networks who drive the market, and whose behaviours create the weather.

Everyone at any level of seniority in every agency in the land knows that ad fraud is a massive problem. Everyone knows about MFAs.

Everyone knows that too much advertiser money is spent on unproductive adtech, and that the network agencies are forever looking for new ways to make undisclosed margins.

But no-one wants to talk about these issues.

The reason for the silence is obvious. For years, the largest network media agencies have made more money from their suppliers, be they media vendors, fraud detection specialists, or adtech companies than they have from their clients.

Holding company revenues are largely dependent on revenues from their media arms – whose margins are high. Anyone running a holding company media operation is all too aware of the pressure to deliver high margins; their parent simply can’t survive without them.

So – do a deal with a fraud detection business / adtech vendor / specialist research supplier, pretend to the client that everything is under control, and don’t rock the boat.

The problem is that courtesy of all sorts of interfering so-and-so’s the cat is now well and truly out of the bag. Clients are asking difficult questions; questions which cannot in all truth be answered without compromising a valuable supplier.

Consequently (and we can argue which came first, chicken or egg) trust between client and media agency has eroded.

Respectable media vendors have found themselves disadvantaged unless they play the game. No matter their quality brand-safe environment, their valuable audiences, unless they play in the agencies’ sandpit they simply can’t generate sufficient revenue to fund their uniquely valuable content.

Some of our trade press too largely ignores these issues – there’s a symbiotic relationship between journalists, adtech vendors, platforms and agencies. There’s advertising to consider, and pitches to get excited about.

What about independent auditors? Too many still rely for their bread and butter on old-fashioned cost grids, and audits based on the same dodgy principles that were around in my, and Nick’s day. There’s much talk but the truth is they’re not sufficiently tooled up.

Trade bodies, and the verification organisations? Take the IPA as an example, it’s well-funded, but it faces a dilemma.

If the IPA is to represent and protect the interests of its members, what is it to do if those members’ interests are not necessarily aligned with a healthy, trusted ad business?

Stay schtum seems to be the answer. When did you last see an employee of a major agency break cover to comment publicly on ad fraud (and keep his or her job)?

What can two old guys, who do care, do?

We intend putting on an event whose shape and scale will be driven by the interest we generate. Maybe we’ll need a conference venue, maybe a large table, maybe a small desk.

If there are costs (for the venue for example) we will charge a modest fee to attend, with any profits being passed on to the advertising charity NABS.

We will not accept sponsorship, although we will approach a select few to ask for practical assistance.

We will select speakers on the basis that they will be well-informed and prepared to speak the truth. Everything will be on the record. We won’t pay speakers, nor will we pay ourselves.

We will invite journalists from serious business titles, as well as advertisers. From early soundings we think many will attend.

We will publish who we’re inviting (we’ll invite all the big players), who attends, and as importantly, who doesn’t.

We will produce a set of actions from the event.

This post is our first attempt to gauge interest.

If you’re interested you can comment as usual, or if you would rather remain anonymous for now you can mail me at  or Nick at

We hope that interest will win out over apathy; and that the seriousness of the situation we’re all in will overcome short-term concerns.

We’ll see.

  1. I care and am happy to help and would love to attend

  2. Count me in,Brian and Nick!

  3. I am Spartacus!

  4. Hooray , a long overdue initiative , well bloody done , I am totally in .

  5. Yep. I’m interested.

  6. would love to be involved

  7. I’d love to be part of the discussion, and attend. Online?

  8. Great initiative guys and very happy to be involved. I speak out about to this and have lost business on the back of my beliefs, as the agency suggests to the client to use another auditing company! If CEO’s of companies who spend a lot on advertising knew about what is going on, they’d have a hissy fit!

  9. Great initiative!

  10. I suggest that we have similar concerns with integrity, honesty, data quality and manipulation, and cronyism here in the US (who generally do not give one jot about the rest of the ad or media research world). However, I suggest it is driven more by the sellers and the apathy and lack of understanding of “the playing field” by the advertisers. My recent Op Ed in Media Post on the US TV/Video multi-currency farrago provides an indication of the rot here but you are right. We need to identify strong actions but they will need other than the “usual suspects” to execute.
    Read Ed Papazian’s comment!

  11. Count me in

  12. Gents! This is God’s work. I am recently retired after a career on the sell side. Would love to help with this conference. I’m currently celebrating my “conscious decoupling” from big media so a little hard to reach. Connect with me on linked in? We can exchange there. Rick Mandler.

  13. Interested🥳🥳

  14. I’m in

  15. Happy to help however I can

  16. Count me in, might be able to help with the PR and also via my network re practical assistance, once we know what we need. Also as a portfolio NED now might be good to get a load of similar portfilio NEDs along who are on the boards of both agencies and clients but not execs. I can help there too via my NED network. Suggest that step one is an organising committee?

  17. When I joined Initiative Media back in 2001 as CEO this was more or less the state of things back then…things seem to have somehow gotten worse as the world moves relentlessly from analog Euros to digital pennies. Awesome aspiration here – daunting challenge.

  18. I started a media agency entirely because of these issues. You can do more than moan and it can work too. But it also takes a very important stakeholder to be engaged – the folks who own the budgets from which all of this skimming occurs.
    If you want a venue, I’d love to host the whole thing here at our agency offices in Brooklyn.

  19. Would love to attend

  20. Brian, and Nick, I’m in. As Tony Jarvis notes above, it’s far worse in the US. The value and money are capture by Big Tech, with the industry in its pocket. I loved my career, we can’t go back, but I passionately want to contribute to change, renewal, and a transition to a better world.

  21. Top idea and you have my support from Down Under. LMK if I can help. Please consider a live stream!

  22. Count me in! I’m committed to removing the rot that has taken hold in this industry!

  23. Count me in!

  24. I cared and I cared so much so I started a small marketing technology startups investment and incubation company to explore possible solution to transparency, new agency models, improved way of operating professional service businesses. It is a difficult and lonely journey and I’m still hanging in there with plenty of hopes.

  25. Interested

  26. All very true Brian and Nick, but I think some accountability has to lie with the client. One of the biggest vacuums currently – and it’s been pointed out before – is the lack of media knowledge within client organisations. Apart from the big global multinationals, so few clients really understand the media ecosystem, which not only allows current conditions to prevail but indeed encourages them. Happy to help.

  27. ABSO-f-ing-lutely.

  28. Thanks to everyone who commented above!
    We have been pleasantly surprised by the leve of support. Currently we are building a mail list of supporters to which I’ll add you all. This is now approaching 100, the blog above has been accessed by about 4,000.
    We’ll be in touch…

  29. Please include me too

  30. “We will publish who we’re inviting (we’ll invite all the big players), who attends, and as importantly, who doesn’t.”

    love your work BJ however i’d counsel the above might not be the best move.

    imagine this. I’m inviting 100 people to an anti-racism conference. if you dont attend, the implication is that you’re a racist.

    how is that any different to what your suggestion? You are implying complicity based on non-attendance

  31. Hi – not at all. We aren’t anti-anything we just want to have the debate. Surely it’s better if all sides to contribute to that debate either by attending or by commenting online? If anyone chooses not to do so then that says something surely?

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