Google Aims to Stop 'Agency Fraud' in South Africa

Technology & Convergence

Myth and misunderstanding is leading to digital mayhem in the industry, whereby agencies are being accused by digital behemoth Google of committing fraud or, at the very least, irresponsible accounting with their clients cash online. As a result, Google announced today, Friday, 14 November 2008, that it would be 'Google certifying' five key agencies leading this space in 2009.

Google South Africa country manager Stafford Masie addressed a media/client roundtable this morning in Johannesburg and explained his horror at the way some media and advertising agencies were bamboozling their clients as to the cost of online Google campaigns, "adding on 17 - 37% markups" in some cases and not allowing clients to see the true value or results of their Google adwords campaigns, "because they were too complicated for the client to understand".

"The agencies are getting away with murder," said Masie, admitting that he knew his comments were provocative. "We are aiming to be disruptive. Marketers are being taken for a ride." Google therefore intends to level the playing field a bit by introducing 'Google certified agencies' in 2009 to work hand-in-hand strategically with clients, due to the financial "killing some agencies are making off ill-informed clients".

"There won't be more than five of them (agencies), to build necessary capability and understanding, so when they go to clients, they position digital correctly." Masie said the lack of cohesion and understanding in the media and marketing industry, and among the bigger and medium sized ad agencies of the digital ecosystem, was causing confusion and not helping with the understanding of digital in SA.

"Agencies are worried about us. We are being disruptive... but they go in, they bill clients incorrectly. There is fraud happening. What really peeves me, is they say: 'Give us R100 000 and we'll sort it out... trust me'. They will not disclose to clients what their Google campaigns entail."

When blogged and tweeted the above news feed live from the event this morning, Twitter flamed with immediate comment. One tweet asked: "Another revenue stream for Google - how much will those five certified agencies have to cough up for the privilege?"

When the question was put live to Masie during the roundtable debate, he answered: "We are not only going to work with these agencies, we won't be a cartel... The certification will cost nothing. People get us wrong. This is not about making money - this is to ensure that we will build referential agencies - so there is a model in the industry that people can follow. We will have experts out there to enable various Google tools... we will provide training on all the tools. We want to broadly empower the industry."

He said the intention was not to incur additional revenue. "The objective is the following: the industry is very fragmented. We are going to educate the industry, share our tools and knowledge with the industry. But to bring the two together, we are going to take the first step."

The fact is that the continued digital divide is costing clients cold hard cash, and as FNB media director Gisele Wertheim-Aymes, who participated in the debate, pointed out, the onus is on marketers to upskill themselves in order to brief their agencies correctly - and keep them in check.

"Clients get involved in digital very little. They leave it up to the agencies. There is a huge challenge in digital. Major media buying companies are not geared up at all for digital, let alone Google. They are outsourcing to smaller agencies who can do it - but it adds additional steps to the process. It delays the response to opportunities online."

She pointed out that SA users were transacting heavily on banking websites, using search heavily. FNB has in fact shifted ad spend from banner advertising into search (which is unfortunately not tracked by Adindex).

"The big challenge for the industry and for clients is to get their head around this and take it seriously and know how Google works and have people inside your organisation that can make it work. There is not a model that lends itself to it. The whole media model has changed online. Clients have to start treating this digital space far more seriously. When things happen quickly, in now time, real time, you can't wait 10 days for a plan. You have to be agile to capitalise on opportunities online."

As Masie points out, big agencies don't have strong digital competencies inhouse and the big and medium agencies don't have the agility needed to act on opportunities as they happen. Marketers are asking questions around who do they target, where do they start?

And this is why Google will be empowering key agencies in this space, he says, as well as training marketers and agencies in general going forward on the various Google tools, search engine optimisation (SEO) and key search word advertising.

"Agencies are making money out of this innuendo and mystery in the digital space. Google is trying to fix this with education," he emphasised.

Wertheim-Aymes, denying she is only 'Googleyed', remarked that Google was a catalyst in the industry and had created a consciousness of what is going around out there in the digital space.

"Look at how people use the internet. Digital has to be put on the agenda - spend is below global levels. If you are a good marketer you will put digital on the agenda along with face-to-face promotional events in kraals in rural areas if that is what your brand requires. The responsibility rests with marketers. Technology is changing the world. It is not just up to the agencies. Technology changed the US Presidential election. This is a changing world. Understanding digital and how Google enables that will give a clever marketer the edge. We cannot escape it."