Will agencies send badly behaved brands packing?
A view from Claire Beale

Will agencies send badly behaved brands packing?

Last month, General Motors agreed to pay a $900 million fine to dodge a criminal investigation into allegations that it buried information about a fault in its ignition switch that led to the deaths of at least 124 people.

Earlier this year, the European Union launched an anti-trust probe into Google’s Android operating system and accused Google of cheating competitors by manipulating search results to favour its Google Shopping channel. Meanwhile, after GlaxoSmithKline was fined $488 million for bribing doctors in China, Bristol-Myers Squibb was this week ordered to pay penalties to US authorities for similar misdeeds.

And you can read our industry’s take on the stunning Volkswagen emissions fraud  – which, as well as crippling the car giant, will also damage all of its suppliers. That list of suppliers includes VW’s long-serving agency partner, DDB, whose beloved work for the brand over the past 55 years formed and underlined VW’s reputation for integrity and became a creative touchstone that has inspired generations of creatives.

In fact, VW’s superlative advertising heritage might even help save the brand. If so, then VW will owe DDB a debt it will probably never be able to repay. God forbid that VW will do what so many other troubled companies do: review their advertising as a knee-jerk sign that they’re trying to move on.

Anyway, the wider point is that there are dozens of recent examples of major global corporations being accused of lying and cheating. Yet, meanwhile, many marketing directors – no doubt some of whom work for law-breaking firms whose law-breaking ruins (or even costs) lives – continue to accuse the ad industry of a lack of transparency, agonise about click fraud, demand full auditing rights over not just their agencies but their agencies’ sibling companies, and generally approach our industry with an unshakeable suspicion and mistrust.

Perhaps this deep-rooted (and, yes, sometimes justified) belief that they’re being screwed by agencies makes them feel more comfortable about driving down costs while ramping up demands. Just saying.

Every time a major client gets exposed for being thoroughly disreputable and untrustworthy, the advertising industry sinks a little lower, too, because it’s (unwittingly, hopefully) complicit in the deception. I admit to weary cynicism when I hear of yet another initiative designed to reward advertisers and agencies for doing good, but it’s clear that we’ve got some serious ground to make up. But adland’s determination to make a positive contribution would be more convincing if agencies refused to work with companies that have misled consumers. Perhaps DDB should fire VW.

claire.beale@haymarket.com     
@clairebeale