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Where are the customers' yachts?
Tom DenfordJun 22, 20235 min read

Where are the customers' yachts?

Brands Deserve Better Media

A weekly column from @tomjdenford


The lunacy at the heart of the (media) investment business



The title of this post is taken from the seminal work of the same name by Fred Schwed Jr., in his charming and witty expose of the financial community of the 1930’s.


The book exposes the folly and hypocrisy of Wall Street. The title refers to a story about a visitor to New York who admired the yachts of the bankers and brokers. Naively, he asked where all the customers' yachts were? Of course, none of the customers could afford yachts, even though they dutifully followed the advice of their bankers and brokers.



Cannes you answer the question?

You know where I’m going with this… to the Riviera and The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Someone once called it the Canned-Lies Incestuous Festival of Creative Accounting. I think that’s a bit harsh. But let’s pause and ponder for a moment, what would Mr. Fred Schwed Jr. make of it all?


On Monday, June 19 in Cannes, the leading industry trade body, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), released their ‘first look’ report into the programmatic media supply chain. It has been two years in the brewing as ANA members shared their campaign data for analysis and interviews were conducted with dozens of parties with knowledge. It's a good read and I recommend downloading it right now.



The ID Comms view (and what to do)

The expert team at ID Comms has been busy analyzing the findings of the ANA’s report and preparing advice for our clients. Here’s a quick summary to whet your appetite:


  • The current programmatic media ecosystem is “rife with waste” with around $13-20 billion (23% of programmatic media spend evaluated) considered to have been wastefully spent

  • Made-for-advertising (MFA) websites account for 15% of spend within the current $88 billion open programmatic web market. These websites usually feature low-quality content including fake news and conspiracy theories. Such sites are also rife with links to spam, pop-up ads and other intrusive formats to maximize revenue.

  • According to the report, the average campaign runs on 44,000 websites, which by definition is wasteful. “Advertisers can reach 95% of audiences using a few hundred websites.”

  • Contracts with agencies and adtech need to be reviewed and improved. Lack of insight is a big issue often driven by the fact that advertisers often don’t demand specific transparency and data rights in their buying contracts. Without better information, advertisers can often overpay for inferior inventory.


These are not mysterious phenomena, They can all be addressed with some good forward planing. The ANA has provided some helpful guidance and recommended actions. 



Summary of ANA recommendations

1 - Advertisers must be “more active” as stewards of their media investments and address the current “information asymmetry” that exists by getting better advice and insights.

2 - Advertisers should review and eliminate most MFA websites from media buys and prioritize viewable, fraud-free and brand-safe programmatic buys.

3 - Advertisers need to secure direct data access contracts with all primary supply partners, including DSPs, SSPs and ad-verification vendors.

4 - Advertisers’ relationships with agency partners must be upgraded to provide complete access to data and full transparency of websites purchased on media buys.


GetDigital Control’ over your media investments

ID Comms provides advertisers with analytics tools, advice and reporting to untangle and de-risk programmatic advertising. Our ‘Digital Control’ program is used by some of the world’s leading advertisers to remove waste and improve the impact of digital media investments. It is designed to address exactly the problems highlighted by the ANA.


  • Recommendations 1 & 2 - ID Comms can directly address with Digital Control and our best practices established with leading advertisers

  • Recommendation 3 - ID Comms can deliver through expert analysis of current contracts and a more thorough tech partner selection approach

  • Recommendation 4 - ID Comms can address through an agency pitch or contract renegotiation with your agency, using Digital Control’s best-practice principles



Don’t act surprised. Just act now.

You might be right to read this ANA report and ask “Where are the customers’ yachts?” If you are an advertiser investing millions each year into advertising and media and not seeing the returns you and your Board expect then you have to ask yourself, “Is this advertising supply chain working hard enough for me?” You know the answer already, you don't need to be surprised.


Mr. Schwed’s book is subtitled “A good hard look at Wall Street.” It's about time for a good hard look at (what used to be) Madison Avenue. There are billions of wasted dollars to be saved, recouped and re-invested back into the brands we are all supposed to be serving, in pursuit of growth.


Please read the report, free to download here. For the next few weeks we will focus some more on the ANA’s findings and, most importantly, what you can be doing about it. Something has to be done.



Brands Deserve Better

I always say it. Brands deserve better media. At these moments, when we get real insights into the murky media supply chain from a trusted source like the ANA, it makes that statement the most poignant. Brands deserve FAR better from programmatic media now. The more insights we get from reports like this then the better informed and motivated advertisers will be to make the necessary changes.


There is no one-button, artificial intelligence solution for this and no short cut to doing a good job of investment governance. All that is required is some basic education, some analysis, a good old-fashioned behavioral change program and a little more care and attention to be paid to make the media you buy work harder for your brands.


Remember, when brands get the media they deserve they grow.


When brands grow, we all win!




PS: If you’ve read the report and want a confidential consultation with any of the expert ID Comms team to shape your action plan and your stakeholder narrative, you can schedule a free, private discovery session with us here.


This post was featured in ID Comms’ weekly column, Brands Deserve Better Media. Each week, CEO Tom Denford shares insights on media and advertising and inspires us to work together to build a better future for the industry.

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