An independent study of Media Transparency in the U.S. Advertising Industry


The U.S. Association of National Advertisers (ANA) released the full findings of their Media Transparency Initiative, set to demystify the landscape and provide a clarifying perspective on the state of transparency and on non-transparent behaviors in the market. The study also outlines practical solutions and best practice behaviors that can move the industry forward.

The assessment was conducted between October 2015 and May 2016 by K2 Intelligence, an industry-leading investigative, compliance, and cyber defence services firm. The 58-page study reveals "evidence of a fundamental disconnect in the advertising industry regarding the basic nature of the advertiser-agency relationship". 

The non-transparent business practices employed by agencies, some of which may or may not have been contract-compliant, include the following:

  • Cash rebates from media companies were provided to agencies with payments based on the amount spent on media. Advertisers interviewed in the K2 Intelligence study indicated they did not receive rebates or were unaware of any rebates being returned.
  • Rebates in the form of free media inventory credits.
  • Rebates structured as "service agreements" in which media suppliers paid agencies for non-media services such as low-value research or consulting initiatives that were often tied to the volume of agency spend. Sources told K2 Intelligence that these services "were being used to obscure what was essentially a rebate."
  • Markups on media sold through principal transactions ranged from approximately 30% to 90%, and media buyers were sometimes pressured or incentivized by their agency holding companies to direct client spend to this media, regardless of whether such purchases were in the clients' best interests.
  • Dual rate cards in which agencies and holding companies negotiated separate rates with media suppliers when acting as principals and as agents.
  • Non-transparent business practices in the U.S. market resulting from agencies holding equity stakes in media suppliers.

These were found across digital, print, out-of-home and television media. In addition, the non-transparent practices were found to exist across the spectrum of agency media entities.

2. As marketing experts and contract compliance specialists, Ebiquity and FirmDecisions, respectively, were commissioned to identify the potential implications for advertisers of the findings contained in K2 Intelligence's study. Their work focuses on contract provisions and principles, and provides best practice advice for advertisers to help them to develop practical solutions. 


Research & Insights Agency