From computers hidden in remote forests serving deodorant ads to fake Facebook accounts to whistleblowers highlighting odd contracts that require ad-tech businesses to pay money to random companies in Spain, serious trust issues abound.
So it is timely that the Internet Advertising Bureau has decided to outline the challenges it is attempting to overcome. That it chose to address one of five "mounting criticisms" each day this week, in the doldrums of August, is almost cute. One can only imagine marketers waiting with bated breath at their PCs for the daily "call to action" to go online, certain that there within will be the answer they can parrot back to their chief financial officer that very afternoon.
On Monday, there was a statement on brand safety and, on Tuesday, one around ad viewability. Yesterday, the IAB explored the sexy issue of ad fraud. Today, the subject is ad-blocking and we have privacy to look forward to tomorrow. Presumably, all will be solved by the weekend – which is handy, as I’m going to a wedding. But, facetiousness aside, these are all problems that need to be – in the IAB’s own words – tackled head-on.
Unsurprisingly, the other trade bodies are all making appreciative noises. Nigel Gwilliam, the IPA’s consultant head of digital and emerging technology, says it "highly values" the IAB as a partner and looks forward to continuing their close working relationship. And hopefully, as Bob Wootton, the director of media and advertising at ISBA, says, the "silly season" timing of this release will not prevent the contents from gaining traction. These issues are too important to be left in the archives with the big cats of Essex and Thames whales.
Among the topics covered by the IAB, ad fraud might be the stiffest software-based challenge, but ad-blockers have the potential to be more destructive. When I interviewed Sir Tim Berners-Lee recently, the inventor of the world wide web said he didn’t think ad-blockers were a problem because people didn’t really use them. But, earlier this month, research from PageFair and Adobe found that people are indeed turning to them: ad-blocker usage was up 41 per cent year on year in the second quarter of 2015.
The message that online advertising pays for free content and services is not getting across. For the online world to remain free, it has to. Equally, advertisers and agencies need to start making ads that don’t drive people to download a plug-in to avoid them. Or even work they actually want to see.
If only it were that simple. But it’s a start.