CMOs have made it fashionable to use conference stages to talk loudly about transparency issues across the industry. It’s now cool to play the role of a disappointed parental figure — digital media has so much promise, they say, but they’re let down constantly by agencies, platforms, metrics, fraud or all of the above.

But as we’ve argued previously, most problems in media begin and end with clients themselves. And for any change to happen, they will need to take a stand beyond repeated conference talks calling for a “cleanup.”

Some marketers are waking up to this, it seems. Just this week, speaking at the Digiday Brand Summit in Ireland, RBS CMO David Wheldon, asked about why agencies have to go to lengths to make money in ways clients may not know about. “Clients should’ve taken responsibility for how their external partners were rewarded for what they’ve done,” he said. It’s not just procurement to blame: Clients that used to pay margins of 17.5% are now paying in the low single digits. In that environment, it’s no wonder agencies that need to run a business start looking for other options to claw back some revenue.

Meanwhile, few marketers are pulling significant dollars from major platforms over their repeated measurement and brand-safety issues, despite what they might claim when reporters call.

Agencies sound like they’re pretty sick of the whole thing too: “I think it’s time to call bullshit on the transparency thing,” said one agency CEO speaking to me to this week. Another exec said: “If things are this bad then why don’t they stop spending on the platforms?”

But perhaps it’s more that it’s often easier to have someone to blame than to do the hard work of figuring out a solution. “This suits them better,” said a third agency exec. — Shareen Pathak

Don’t count on Congress to cancel out California’s privacy law
Congress appears likely to try to introduce a federal privacy law that may preempt states’ privacy laws, including the California Consumer Privacy Act. But businesses that might be affected shouldn’t bank on such a law passing, and especially not before the California law takes effect in January 2020.

Companies and industry groups have been angling for Congress to pass a federal privacy law that would cancel out states’ privacy laws. The California privacy law specifically has posed a headache for businesses because of the broad categories of information it covers and a continued lack of clarity into some provisions, including what qualifies as “de-identified information” and what is considered a household.

Companies looking to Congress to help their interests shouldn’t get their hopes up. While some representatives and senators have introduced privacy bills following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal last year, none have yet received a groundswell of support to suggest they will be put to a vote anytime soon.

Congressional committees have held a series of hearings over the past year to determine what a federal privacy law should and should not cover. But if the latest hearing hosted by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week is any indication, there remain more questions than answers at this point.

If and when a federal privacy bill does make it to the floor for a vote, the polarized political landscape makes it far from guaranteed that it will make it to the President’s desk to be signed into law. For starters, the bill would have to survive a Democrat-controlled House and then a Republican-controlled Senate; the two parties may have differing opinions on how to strike a balance between protecting people’s privacy without blighting businesses. Then if privacy becomes a major issue in the presidential campaign cycle — a lightning rod for either side to rally their base — the prospects dim further.

Nonetheless, businesses can rest uneasy that they will have to comply with at least one privacy law by next year, if only in California. — Tim Peterson

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