A ‘long-overdue’ big step forward: Media agencies respond to ACCC ad tech inquiry

Media agencies have responded overwhelmingly positively to the news they face an impending inquiry, led by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), following yesterday’s government response to the Digital Platforms Inquiry and Report.

The first inquiry for the Digital Platforms Branch of the ACCC – to be created with $27m in government funding across four years – will aim to lift the hood on the “black box” and “opaque” media buying process. Both holding groups and independents offered their support for such an inquiry, claiming ACCC intervention will help reverse the erosion of trust and improve transparency in the industry.

The government’s support comes five months after the final report was handed down in July

That support starts from the top, with the industry’s peak body, the Media Federation of Australia (MFA) welcoming any initiative, including the approved inquiry, which improves trust.

“We intend to fully co-operate with government on the enquiry into ad tech services and agencies,” CEO Sophie Madden said.

“We support and are committed to any initiative that aims to provide greater clarity and improved trust.”

Peter Horgan, MFA chair and CEO of Omnicom Media Group, which includes PHD and OMD, echoed that sentiment, adding: “Omnicom Media Group and all its agencies have been vocal in calling for digital supply chain transparency and look forward to working with the new inquiry.”

The MFA welcomed the government’s response

The themes of ‘trust’ and ‘transparency’ were recurring. Publicis Media’s CEO, Toby Barbour, said it will do “what’s necessary to facilitate the inquiry” and noted the company has set up a digital and data council focused on data privacy and consumer protection.

“This includes the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry report and the effect that any legislative developments will have on our clients’ businesses and consequentially, our own,” he said.

The ACCC’s final report included this diagram of how media agencies make money (Click to enlarge)

Chair of Atomic 212, Barry O’Brien, proposed that implementing the ACCC’s recommendations is “long-overdue… good news”.

“The government’s decision to adopt the key recommendations of the ACCC’s report is a big step forward in creating a more even and fairer media sector, which can only be good news for all media companies, marketers and consumers,” O’Brien stated.

“The ACCC’s report is a world-leading document and it’s encouraging that the government is moving ahead with the accountability and long-overdue reforms it proposes. The result will be a stronger media industry.”

Other independents including Nunn Media and The Media Store also offered unconditional support. Chris Walton, Nunn’s Sydney managing director, said he “fully welcome[s]” the inquiry, due to a “significant erosion of trust in our industry”.

“Whilst our agency places a huge emphasis on transparency there is no doubt that at an industry level, work needs to be done to restore trust. Such an inquiry could play a significant role in doing so,” he said.

The Media Store’s digital director, Ally Cooney, added that her agency had paid particular attention to whether the inquiry would get the green light.

“As an independent agency who seeks to raise the bar for ourselves, our clients and the industry, we pride ourselves on being transparent and authentic in how we conduct ourselves,” Cooney offered.

“We believe that behaving in this manner lifts all the boats and the creation of a Digital Platforms Branch within the ACCC will help establish a water line – a clear standard – that the industry should aim to operate at.”

The government’s plan to implement the supported recommendations (Click to enlarge)

Group M’s Australia and New Zealand chief executive, Mark Lollback, did not specifically say whether WPP’s media agency arm supports the inquiry, but took the opportunity to reinforce the group’s commitment to “integrity of digital advertising” and “improving the digital supply chain”.

“The digital media industry is complex, but we all want a sustainable digital ecosystem that provides advertisers and clients with quality, brand safe environments to reach consumers,” Lollback said.

“That means we need a strong local industry in Australia, to support locally produced content, populated by media and digital firms that can compete alongside global players on an even playing field, so that consumer have the best access to information, entertainment and news.

“Group M has participated in or led every industry initiative to enhance the integrity of digital advertising worldwide and is committed to continuously adapting to and improving the digital supply chain to create the safest and most effective environment possible for our clients.”

IPG Mediabrands declined to comment, with a spokesperson saying: “We await further details, but don’t wish to comment on ongoing or impending inquiries.”

The Dentsu Aegis Network did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

The government’s response – handed down yesterday and fronted by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and Attorney General Christian Porter – also approved the development of a voluntary code of conduct, media regulation reforms to cover both online and offline companies, increased penalties for breaches of the Privacy Act, a review of the legislation, and a binding online privacy code.

It chose not to support a mandatory ACMA take-down code to assist copyright enforcement on digital platforms, or tax system reforms to encourage philanthropic support for journalism.


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