Accenture’s move into programmatic media planning and buying

Accenture has announced that it is launching a programmatic services offering – a move that fundamentally threatens its impartiality as a media auditor.

Accenture announces programmatic services offering

Last week Accenture, best known in advertising circles for its media auditing business, announced that its digital arm, Accenture Interactive, was launching a programmatic services practice. Accenture Interactive Programmatic Services will offer services in three areas: programmatic consulting and in-housing; media strategy, planning and activation; and ad tech implementation and support. In doing so, they have placed themselves in direct competition with both media agencies and a wide range of specialist companies that already offer programmatic planning and buying services.

The claim: more transparency

They claim that they have launched this service in response to an increasing trend amongst advertisers of bringing programmatic spend – at least partially – in-house, in order to regain control of their advertising investment in a time where transparency is a concern. The May 2018 ‘Programmatic In-housing’ report by the US Interactive Advertising Bureau found that 18% of marketers have moved their programmatic buying in its entirety in house, while another 47% have begun the process and intend to continue it. This can be a complicated process involving synchronisation of many previously disparate parts of an organisation, so advertisers are interested in somebody who can help them manage the process with 100% transparency, which Accenture claims it will provide.

The reality: less impartiality

Many media and specialist programmatic agencies have expressed profound concerns about a conflict of interest, with some saying that they will no longer accept Accenture audits. We at ECI agree. The key to effective media auditing is impartiality, and no company can legitimately claim to be impartial whilst offering media services to a market where it has highly privileged access to the data and financial information of both advertisers and agencies. You cannot provide independent benchmarking as an auditor if you are also buying inventory. As Paul Bainsfair, the Director General of the IPA (the UK ad industry’s trade body) said, the move is “incompatible with [Accenture’s] role as a media auditor… In an era where transparency is under the spotlight, this self-evident conflict of interest is unacceptable”.

Accenture has defended its impartiality by claiming that will not provide both auditing and media services to the same client, and that, as Accenture Interactive is a separate business unit to the media auditing business, firewalls and confidentiality agreements will be in place. We have doubts that, in practice, this will be effective. As one media agency boss said, what’s to stop them telling prospect clients that their agency is non-transparent and that they have the solution?

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