What Matters

One hundred years ago McCann Erickson was founded on the positioning ‘Truth Well Told’; although when that line was first written I don’t suppose anybody labelled it as ‘a positioning statement’.

It is a strong line. Truth, when well-expressed has considerable power. But in the media world we naturally know better. We prefer to play by a different set of rules.

The truth is what you make it; say it often enough, and loudly enough and it becomes so.

I sometimes think that in the commercial end of the media business we relish misunderstanding. Truth often goes hand-in-hand with simplicity, and to paraphrase the great Irwin Gotlieb (and not for the first time) ‘In confusion lies margin’. If an industry can have a single positioning statement, there is the traditional media man’s riposte to McCanns.

Keeping it simple in media is not always popular. How much better to shout about ambitions for our business that everyone wants to achieve. To campaign for outcomes which we can all get wholeheartedly behind.

Take a few of the great media debates of our time. Diversity. Sustainability. Disassociating advertising from harmful content.

All of these are worthy, important topics. Making progress in all three is extremely hard, and highly desirable, and kudos to the likes of the Conscious Advertising Network and to any number of committed individuals for the work they do. Their achievements are impressive.

But if I may raise a tentative hand in the air, these are all societal problems. They need solving, in all walks of life.

The ambitions we have in these fields are easy to agree with, even if they may be extremely hard to achieve. No-one will stand against you; everyone will cheer you on.

Earlier this week ‘The Media Leader’, which by the way is fast establishing itself as a must-read featuring a list of regular columnists covering an array of topics that put their competitors to shame, carried a piece on ad fraud by Nick Swimer.

Nick is a Partner at Reed Smith, the law firm where he specialises in broadcasting law.

The essence of the piece was to ask: ‘Why aren’t advertisers shouting about ad fraud’?

It is by any objective measure a bizarre state of affairs.

We are in a recession; marketing budgets are being cut; and according to Nick’s piece, quoting Juniper Research $68bn will be lost to ad fraud this year. ($68bn may be at the low end – the ANA in the US have quoted $120bn although they promptly ‘disappeared’ that figure when it started to attract attention).

$68bn is a lot not to worry over-much about.

ISBA’s work through PWC demonstrated how even top-end, sophisticated clients’ ads appeared on an average of over 40,000 websites. Mostly non-premium. Many selected to the benefit of fraudsters.


I find it hard to understand how any media agency professional, or client marketer for that matter can possibly condone such activity.

Agency: ‘Yes, we know we have told you that reach is key. That accountability and measurement are essential. That context counts. That understanding audience behaviour is a cornerstone in everything we do. But we believe your interests are best served by leaving media placements up to a programmatic system we don’t control or fully understand, and which will place your ads on this very beautiful site selling Nepalese Prayer Flags (a real example surfaced by the PwC work).’

Wherever you look online advertising is questionable. From audience measures that are not verified. To the platforms’ failure to control or edit hateful content. To a misappropriation of ad language (attribution measures that are nothing of the sort, metrics that mirror those used elsewhere whilst meaning something different). To the disintermediation of agencies. To promoting gross numbers to non-specialists.

Why don’t the agencies, those professional advisors tell the truth? Shout it from the rooftops: fraud is rife, we can’t control it and we may as well take that fact into account in how we spend your money.

Audience measurement in online is questionable and shouldn’t be compared with data from the independent verifiable systems.

Why not put as much effort into delivering the best advice as you do into standing up for sustainability or a diverse workforce?

Why not?

Because it’s hard and because the unfortunate, unpalatable fact is we’re all to blame. We’re all complicit.

This whole thing will come crashing down when the non-specialist grown-ups in the C-Suite start to ask the necessary, the awkward questions on the effectiveness of marketing spend.

The McCann line was often mocked by those working there, bastardised to ‘Truth Well Old.’

Given the way that old media ideas keep being reinvented, even if they’re mistranslated and twisted out of shape, Truth Well Old might not be a bad ambition.

  1. I have distant memories of the ’70s and 80’s when it was more akin to Truth Well Oiled.

  2. @Rich -LOL – see you down the Blue Lion tonight?

  3. If you can remember it you weren’t there Bedders!

  4. Nice article Brian- some parallels with the financial crash of a few years back..is ad fraud the CDO of the finance industry. It’s presence is widely known but not understood?….if it is it might also indicate that those non specialists are also culpable – by now they must also guess something is wrong.

  5. Thanks Andrew. Maybe oddly but I think the Twitter Musk mess could have wide implications.
    C-Suite managers are now aware of the many questions around advertising on social media.
    Plus there is much going on to use business results modelling linked to SM metrics or rather vice-versa! I’m involved in one of these.
    Link in attention data and what you find is SM is maybe not the answer to every problem! And importantly why that is.
    And guess what? Fraud is one such reason why…!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *