Corruption in advertising

“Corruption in advertising” was first published in MARKETING WEEKENDER Issue 344

“Corruption is a form of dishonesty or a criminal offence which is undertaken by a person or organization entrusted in a position of authority, to acquire illicit benefits or abuse power for one’s gain.” 

So we are back again talking about the most discussed subject in Malaysia. I have written extensively about it in the past here and here

I must confess even a book is not sufficient to cover this subject. 

As business gets more competitive, how do we define corruption in our RM10 billion industry? 

What about PR Companies sending gifts to entice the writer to favour the product in his review. That may be an innocent product briefing, but what about the big drink after the job is done.

One thing is for sure… 

Clients do not bribe agencies (if they did, they’ll want a 99% discount!), and it’s mostly agencies and their downstream that are the givers. The form in which this happens is as mysterious as the hunt for Jho Low. 

As it stands, the advertising and media businesses have always been paid by a commission system, whereby they earn a certain percentage on media investment by advertisers or straight out fees for work done. While the trade practice of 15% media commission and 17.65% on third party cost was the norm eons back, it’s anybody’s guess how compensation is worked out these days… 

It is also anybody’s guess who is telling the truth or half-truths. 

Or any truth at all. 

Like a top security expert who recently claimed, “8 in 10 Twitter accounts are fake.” He told The Australian that more than 80% of Twitter accounts are bots – a massive blow as Twitter says only 5% of its users are bots. 

But then let’s get to the meat of my headline… 

This is my definition of corruption in our business…. and it is most apparent in new business pitching…. where corruption is “worked out”. Some call it “transparent corruption”. Transparent only to the parties involved.

Flawed pitching processes in most government and GLC account reviews have not changed. How can 20 companies pitch for one piece of business and get a fair shake? 

I can’t imagine a client going through 20 presentations and giving any objective judgment. That is if they haven’t passed out from acute fatigue. 

There are also many power players in the industry who won’t hesitate to play gangster when muscling out their competition. Rules set do not apply to all; it’s a fallacy to assume that fairness reigns for every player. Hey, life is not fair! And more so in the advertising business. 

This is what is happening on the ground in Malaysia, we have a deep state of our own and it is an open secret.

Once when the Tourism Malaysia account was being pursued ferociously by 11 shortlisted agencies, the then Director-General Datuk Seri Mirza Mohammad Taiyab took a deep sigh and chopped up the business into 11 parts, because he could not fight the deep state. So everyone won, but the bigger players were not happy…. 

Deals are made on commissions that defy any attempt at logical comprehension. So now we come to the money part. Who polices when corruption is disguised as gifts, junkets and favours. Should they be called bribes? Lessons from 1MDB?

Forgoing media commission on an advertising campaign, only to be offset by another project that has nothing to do with the original brief (now fewer takers) is as creative as transfer pricing. 

As for the online giants, they are all liars, as they are all falsifying their data. They are also incestuous in their domination strategy as entities change hands around the same campfire. Their businesses thrive on algorithms created by them. You have zero say. So I won’t waste my life (a better word for time) talking about them. Because we need new laws here.

If you read between the lines of what I am saying, you will get the full picture. Please send me your thoughts at [email protected]

Professor Harmandar Singh
Core Team, #RasuahBusters
Mak Kata Jangan

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