"Murky at best and fraudulent at worst."
This was how Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard described the digital advertising supply chain at the US Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual summit in January 2017.
As many media commentators labelled it, his speech – calling for more transparency, accountability and standardisation across digital advertising – was a seismic wake-up call for the industry. A reality that was driven home by the brand-safety revelations that emerged in The Times soon afterwards.
Brands temporarily pulled spend. Ad fraud dominated headlines. Panels chewed over the demise of digital as we knew it. Yet the data tells a different story. Online advertising continued to see double-digit growth as mobile and addressable advertising both gathered pace. Advertisers’ appetite for digital was still there, as consumers’ appetite continued to grow, but for those within the industry the task was clear. To achieve sustainable growth, the supply chain needed to change. We needed a new approach, commitment and collaboration from media owners, media agencies, adtech businesses and advertisers.
It was in this context that Internet Advertising Bureau UK created the Gold Standard, a breakthrough three-pronged solution to address ad fraud, brand-safety risks and improve consumers’ overall experience of digital ads. In short, the Gold Standard addresses the key issues that Pritchard called out and, to date, 95 media owners, media agencies and adtech companies have been certified. These businesses have undergone an independent Jicwebs Digital Trading Standards Group audit to combat brand-safety issues, implemented IAB Tech Labs’ ads.txt to address ad fraud and abide by advice from the Coalition for Better Ads to avoid the key digital ad formats that consumers don’t want to see.
Looking back to 2017, what has been achieved so far is commendable and testament to the appetite for change that there is within the digital advertising industry, supported by the Advertising Association. Companies across the supply chain want to make sure that they’re working with responsible partners, safeguarding their clients and delivering results.
But what of advertisers? How can they step up to play a more proactive role? Since the Gold Standard’s inception, they have been the missing link – until now. Yesterday, Tesco and McDonald’s were announced as the first brands to publicly pledge their commitment to the Gold Standard. This means they will only work with Gold Standard-certified companies wherever possible and will encourage all downstream suppliers to get certified.
This is a landmark step in creating an industry-wide system of best practice and great news for advertisers. There are huge challenges to effectively building brands and maximising return on marketing investment. Digital advertising offers advertisers opportunities to reach consumers with the right message, in the right place, at the right time. It also gives us the ability to measure effectiveness in real time. But advertisers have been concerned with the trust issues raised by Pritchard. Now, thanks to the Gold Standard, we have the confidence we need to continue to invest.
What’s more, by tackling the issues, we not only minimise the risks associated with digital advertising, but stand to maximise our returns. From building meaningful measurement strategies through to the overall profit your digital advertising generates, so much rests on the investment decisions a brand makes and the partners that it works with. Having a responsible, efficient and transparent digital ecosystem is fundamentally in both advertisers and consumers’ best interests.
To be a successful marketer, you need to put your consumer at the heart of everything you do. This is true for P&G and every other brand. As marketers, we need to understand our consumers and win their hearts and minds. We need to delight them every day to retain their loyalty and trust. We need to win new customers by showing we understand them better than other brands. Digital marketing offers powerful ways to show our consumers that we are listening to them and that we respect them, helping to build brands they can trust.
I believe and hope that Tesco and McDonald’s will be the first of many brands to officially get behind the Gold Standard. Many brands have delegated this responsibility to their media agency, but we need to step up to the challenges laid down. We need to be responsible brand leaders and ensure we are doing everything we can to drive trust in our brands, our marketing and our industry.
When Pritchard took to the stage to call for change, he rallied advertisers to hold the digital supply chain to account. I believe you owe it to your brand, to your consumer and to your organisation to be a leader in this change. Act now.
Roisin Donnelly is non-executive advisor at IAB UK and non-executive director at Just Eat