Why proactive brands are crucial to digital ad regulation
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Why proactive brands are crucial to digital ad regulation

A couple of big advertisers have just signed up to the IAB’s gold standard for digital advertising. To have the best chance of succeeding, the scheme now needs to bring more brands of all sizes on board.

Tesco and McDonald’s recently became the first big brands to sign up to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) UK’s gold standard. They have committed to work only with digital ad suppliers that have also signed up to the initiative. There has been a lag between the launch of the certification over two years ago and the emergence of two major advertisers willing to adopt it. Nevertheless, the hope now is that the possibility of working with one of these household names will encourage more suppliers to sign up and thus improve the digital advertising supply chain. As IAB UK’s chief digital officer Tim Elkington himself said, “The fact that advertisers are now getting behind the initiative is crucial in cementing its effectiveness.”

To date 95 media owners, media agencies and ad tech companies have earned certification by implementing IAB Tech Labs’ ads.txt, submitting to an independent audit and committing to uphold principles set out by the Coalition for Better Ads. Will Tesco and McDonald’s bring more of them into the fold? “This is certainly a good start,” says CIM marketing director Gemma Butler, “if we can still call it a ‘start’ after two years have passed.” Perhaps a good ‘way forward’ would be more appropriate. “The IAB will certainly need more brands to come on board,” says Butler, “because they can be a real driving force for compliance.”

Navigating a potentially significant uptake in adherence would bring its own challenge for the IAB. “What about those suppliers who decide it’s better for them not to comply,” asks Butler. “Some might see an opportunity to stay outside the gold standard and undercut compliant competitors. They would then threaten the entire project of cleaning up digital advertising.”

This is where brands, again, have an enforcing role. “The process a supplier must go through to get gold-standard accreditation is robust and thorough – as it should be,” says CIM’s Adam Pyle. In fact, it can take up to six months to earn certification. “But this does increase the temptation to take the easy option out. However, if a critical mass of advertisers is willing to stand firm themselves and deny business to outsiders, they will help make the business case for the gold standard.”

The business case, of course, is the one that’s most likely to sway a prevaricating supplier: if there is a clear commercial benefit – even an ersatz requirement – for an organisation, they would be compelled to submit to the signing-up process. “Brands are the missing link in making this regulation work,” says Pyle. “And hopefully they recognise the role they have to play: when Tesco signed on, it didn’t say it was on a crusade to make the online world a better place; it said it had spent a lot of money on digital brand safety and saw this almost as a cost-cutting measure. If the IAB is aligned with commercial realities, rather than just being seen as a nice-to-have, it stands a far greater chance of succeeding in its mission.”

It is not just big brands like Tesco and McDonald’s that must think about their role in making digital advertising safer and better for everyone. SMEs account for a notable proportion of the UK’s digital ad market. Together, they are a significant bloc that can help en masse to marginalise unscrupulous suppliers and clean up digital advertising.

“It’s just important to remember,” says Butler, “that there must be enforcement on both sides. As well as shady suppliers, there might be brands trying to game the certification – Tesco’s isn’t the only approach to cost cutting ­– and that’s where the regulator itself will have to show some teeth.”

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Tobias Gourlay Journalist
Gemma Butler Director of Marketing CIM
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