FBI launches criminal investigation into the media buying practices in US

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been reported to be probing around media buying in the advertising industry. According to Wall Street Journal, the FBI had asked for the cooperation of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and its members for the investigation.

A latest article on Adweek said that a letter by ANA was sent out to its members where it confirmed that the FBI was requesting the cooperation and said the firm has had “limited discussions with the FBI”. It added that the starting point would be to identify advertisers who have been defrauded . It also added that members who might think they are victims of these frauds might consider coorperating with the FBI or getting their own council - or "do nothing."

This comes after news reported last month that FBI has an ongoing investigation about the way advertising is bought and sold. The investigation was launched following a 2016 report of the industry commissioned by the ANA around the media transparency issues in the US advertising industry. The report, between October 2015 to November 2016, saw ANA's partner K2 Intelligence conducting 143 interviews with 150 individual sources as part of its study. The study cited that non-transparent business practices were found to be "pervasive" and non-transparent business practices were found to be across digital, OOH, print, and television media, it said.

Of the 150 sources interviewed by K2, 117 were directly involved in media buying in the US market. Out of the 117 sources, 59 reported direct experience with non-transparent business practices, including rebates (34 sources) and principal transactions that enabled potentially problematic practices (33 sources). Rebates came in the form of financial incentives such as cash or free media.

Earlier this month, leading marketing and media trade groups unveiled the beta version of a new industry standard Data Transparency Label. Today, data buyers are making billions of dollars in media spend decisions based on audience segmentation data, but few tools enable marketers to learn “what’s inside” the data they buy.

As such the label was  developed by the ANA’s Data Marketing & Analytics (DMA) division, the IAB Tech Lab, the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) and the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF).   The label is the culmination of more than a year’s work in developing a “nutritional label” equivalent for audience segment data sets that discloses source, collection, segmentation criteria, recency and cleansing specifics. The group is also establishing a centralised database to house the label information, as well as an associated compliance program that will govern disclosure, certification and validation.

A release from ANA said the trade associations and their members were motivated to develop this standard Data Transparency Label to help reputable marketers, fundraisers and agencies better leverage data in a responsible manner, to enable the delivery of increasingly-relevant messages to consumers and donors and to improve the overall consumer experience with content and advertising.