Accountability for the World of Media, from 1914 to 2014 and Beyond

January 31st, 2014 | ACA Team, Association of Canadian Advertisers

Mike Lavery, President and Managing Director, Alliance for Audited Media

Mike Lavery
Mike Lavery

From our foundation verifying circulation claims to auditing cross-channel media today, the Alliance for Audited Media has brought credibility to the media industry for 100 years and counting.

AAM is celebrating its centennial year in 2014. As much as the media industry has changed throughout the past 100 years, it’s remarkable that the founding principles of the Audit Bureau of Circulations — transparency, trust, credibility — haven’t changed.

The foundation and evolution of AAM help explain why these principles will remain as important for the next century as they have for the last.

The Beginnings

AAM’s story begins in the 1860s when George Rowell, a New York advertising agent, publishes the American Newspaper Directory, the first attempt at publishing a list of circulation claims. Over the next few decades, printing innovations, improved transportation, growing populations, and an influx of new consumer goods and stores set the stage for circulation and advertising to grow rapidly.

While a handful of others attempted to make circulation more reliable, publishers’ claims were widely chaotic, confusing and not verified. Advertising rates were consequently just as muddled. Advertisers were not confident in how their media budgets were spent. And in some cases — such as William Randolph Hearst’s deadly rivalries with competing newspapers in Chicago — circulation wars were real.

It was not until 1913 when American advertisers took the lead in organizing all industry parties — ad agencies, advertisers and publishers — to ensure accountability with the help of a third-party auditor.

The Association of National Advertising Managers (now the ANA) organized the Bureau of Verified Circulations in New York. Farther west the Association of American Advertisers separately organized the Advertising Audit Association. The two groups agreed to combine and held their first convention in Chicago on May 20, 1914. Such was the birth of the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Our 600 founding advertisers, ad agencies and publishers from across the U.S. and Canada came together as equals to build an organization that paved the way for the age of advertising.

The First 50 Years

In the next 50 years, advertising and media became big business. And ABC grew. Just one year after founding, ABC’s membership grew to 1,000 members, with combined circulation for publishers reaching more than 64 million.

Fifteen years after ABC is founded, American Tobacco Co. spends $12.3 million to advertise Lucky Strikes—the most ever spent on single-product advertising. Life magazine becomes the first magazine to carry $100 million annually in advertising. Radio, film and television become part of the American media experience, but print magazines and newspapers remain strong. More of our member accomplishments are listed in this timeline.

By our 40th anniversary in 1954, membership grew to 3,600 and total circulations reached more than 300 million. Chairman William A. Hart of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, commented: “By making it possible to invest advertising dollars on the basis of facts, I believe that the Audit Bureau of Circulations has served as the basic factor in the successful use of printed media. It was with the advent of ABC in 1914 that advertising emerged from the atmosphere of chaos, guesswork and speculation and came to be recognized by the industry as a sound and essential business investment.”

The Beginnings of Cross-Channel Media Auditing

As we moved toward the end of the 20th century, circulation remained a foundational metric for evaluating publications, but the industry began to shift from print to multichannel media.

ABC began to make the shift, too. In 1964 ABC created the Audit Bureau of Market Services to audit other media channels such as broadcast, billboards and trade shows. Advertisers were becoming more interested in targeting consumers. So in the early 1980s, ABC created a coupon verification program for newspapers and also began auditing circulation by ZIP code.

With the birth of digital media in the 1990s, the pace of change began to quicken. As a result, we launched ABC Interactive as one of the first digital media auditors in 1996. That year was really the beginning of our role as a modern multichannel auditor.

Count on AAM in the New World of Media

When ABC was founded in 1914 the first chairman, Louis Bruch, said: “The organization committee is turning over to you at this meeting a wonderful foundation; we have built the site, we have got the material here together on which we hope you are going to build a beautiful structure of which we all shall be proud. And someday, maybe the advertising world of the future shall say of those men when they met on the 20th of May, 1914, that ‘they builded better than they knew.’”

They sure did.

AAM has always strived to provide relevant products and services to help our members make smart decisions. As digital media channels have multiplied in recent years, AAM created new digital audit services to verify the metrics and sources of these channels. We built our Media Intelligence Center database into the source for frequent reliable cross-channel data for North America’s top media companies. And in 2012 we rebranded to recognize our advancements as a multichannel auditor and our role in connecting the publishers, advertisers and agencies that stand for reliable audited media.

It is our members who have made this organization thrive for 100 years. Nearly half of our founding members are still members. Today more than 3,000 members are part of the Alliance, and we plan to add 100 new advertiser members in honor of our 100th year. We are planning a series of events and sponsorships throughout 2014 to celebrate and thank you.

We were the first media auditor and inspired three dozen other media auditing organizations to form around the world. Generations of publishers and advertisers have counted on AAM for a century. AAM has and always will stand for accountability in a changing industry. With our solid foundation, timeless mission, dedication to our tripartite membership, and guidance from our world-class board of directors, AAM is positioned to be an industry leader in 2014 and beyond.