AAAA: Some Good News at Last

When numbers get serious, they leave their marks everywhere. Paul Simon was singing about the aging process, but those of us in the Internet media have another view of the matter.

For us, serious numbers are any that are headed down. The first quarter has been a total disaster in Internet advertising, and the full year looks like it will be down 25 percent. Those kinds of numbers are serious like a heart attack.

So yesterday, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) threw us a life buoy. It came in the form of an agreement with the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) on standard terms and conditions for Internet ads.

Among the issues covered by the document are the terms of insertion orders, placement and positioning of ads, cancellations, makegoods and indemnification, and privacy. (On privacy, this means you specify ownership of any personal information collected in the insertion order.)

It’s a much more detailed agreement than the AAAA has with other media industries, said Executive Vice President Mike Donahue. “It needs to be. There are so many different elements, so many different items an Internet media buyer and seller need to address. We didn’t want to leave anything to chance.”

The biggest concession was the IAB’s acceptance of “sequential liability,” the concept that agencies don’t pay for ads until their clients pay them. “This isn’t where we were a year ago, but given the conditions we’re in, publishers are accepting it,” said IAB CEO Robin Webster.

Donahue, in fact, gave Webster much of the credit for the deal. Before she joined the IAB in January, the AAAA was relying on individual IAB members to take sequential liability off the table.

“We made a lot of progress after Robin came on board with the agreement coming on the heels of a marathon bargaining session February 28,” Donahue said.

Webster denied the industry acted out of weakness. “We’re moving so fast to keep up with growth that while we recognize there are huge issues out there, we didn’t have time to address them,” she said.

But Donahue and Webster agreed that the bottom line here is that agencies should be able to compare Internet advertising head-to-head against other media.

“It’s a matter of statistical analysis,” said Donahue. Media buyers should be able to see a 70 percent reach and a 4 frequency from a TV ad buy, and then add interactive elements to get to a 78 percent reach and a 5.2 frequency. For that to happen, apples-to-apples comparisons are necessary.

Webster added that these comparisons are also the key to getting print buyers online. “If they can’t do their regular reach and frequency studies and include interactive advertising, we make it too hard” to buy online.

Webster said she still has work to do in order to integrate online purchases into both the Donovan billing systems used by major agencies and the Nielsen panels used to measure reach. But that work has begun, she insisted, so the online ad turnaround is coming.

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