'Not a formal review': Ford joins marketers signing up for audits

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Media auditing is gaining steam in the U.S. as a second auto marketer, Ford Motor Co., begins a search for a firm to track the $1 billion-plus it spends on advertising.

Ford follows Nissan, which in January began its own search for a media auditor. But broadcast TV executives bemoan the trend and complain that it's not their job to prove return on investment.

Ford Motor Co. is holding informal talks with Media Performance Monitor America in Tarrytown, N.Y. The company is the U.S. division of Billets, a London-based media auditor that assesses over $1.7 billion of ad spending every year, mostly in the U.K. Ford is also talking to other media audit firms, including London-based Media Audits, according to executives with knowledge of the situation.

"It's not a formal review. There's no RFP," said Mark Kaline, global media manager at the automaker. The reason for the planned audit: "We want to make sure our processes aren't driving costs." Mr. Kaline expects Ford will first do media audits for a few brands before rolling out tracking for all its vehicle divisions. He explained that bigger sales volume units such as Ford Division have the most data to analyze.

"It is our understanding that they will start out auditing divisions," said P.J. Leary, chief operating officer of MPMA. "They will not do their entire media budget." Ford Motor Co. spent $1.24 billion in U.S. measured media through November 2003, with $708 million of that for its largest vehicle division, Ford, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

But even this first step into media auditing raised the hackles of broadcast ad sales executives.


"The involvement of procurement people is tending to commoditize the process. ... Our primary responsibility is still to deliver the audience for the message," said Jon Nesvig, president-advertising sales for News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting Co.

MPMA and Media Audits are also leading contenders in a review to audit almost $1 billion in media spending by Nissan (AA, Jan. 5). That review is close to a decision, said executives with knowledge of the situation. Media Audits has the Nissan audit account overseas and has not yet opened an office in the States, although it services about 10 U.S. clients.

Like Nissan, Ford already does media audits in Europe. Ford of Europe tapped Billetts for Land Rover in the U.K. Media Audits handles audits for Volvo, Jaguar and other Ford brands in major European markets. These overseas audits allow benchmarking by category, by similar audience targets or against other large-scale advertisers.

An executive with knowledge of the Ford search described the type of media auditing that the U.K.-based firms do as "business-performance monitoring." They do not monitor "spot-by-spot" spending. "It's more about the best ways to use media," said the executive. "It's the flavor of the month. Everyone is looking at it."


Meanwhile, media companies and buying agencies feel pressure from the challenge that audits present. "There certainly is a lot of pressure on us to recognize ROI as part of what we do, not just related to television but to the whole marketing communications functionality," said Marc Goldstein, CEO of WPP Group's MindShare North America.

"As we see auditing grow, it fundamentally changes the market," said Julian Spooner, CEO of Media Audits. "The market never goes back to what it was. In Spain, where there was no auditing 10 years ago, it was one of the most opaque and least transparent, and was not providing good value for advertisers. It is a fundamentally different market now. It is far more transparent. Agencies are much more accountable to their clients. Clients know much better where they stand. It will be interesting to see what happens in the U.S. The stakes are very high."

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