Hope as ad body fi­nally shares ‘anti-dig­i­tal’ view

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

I’VE been ac­cused of many things in my life, but pos­si­bly the most de­risory ac­cu­sa­tion is that I am “anti-dig­i­tal” and that I’ve been too crit­i­cal of the swamp-like dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing ecosys­tem that has evolved over the past few years. Com­ing from a tra­di­tional pre-dig­i­tal print back­ground and having learned my jour­nal­is­tic skills on an elec­tric typewriter while study­ing jour­nal­ism in DCU some­time dur­ing the last cen­tury, I prob­a­bly am fair game for the dig­i­tal syco­phants who ac­cept that ev­ery­thing is rosy in the dig­i­tal gar­den.

So, when I get an an­gry text or email from some­body within the dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try on a Sun­day or Mon­day morn­ing telling me that my lat­est ram­blings are not help­ful to the in­dus­try or that I am too bi­ased when it comes to (in­sert name of so­cial me­dia plat­form here), I no longer choke on my corn­flakes and im­me­di­ately re­ply with a ro­bust de­fence.

The truth is I re­ally don’t care. Life is too short.

What I do care about, how­ever, is the in­tegrity of the me­dia in­dus­try and its abil­ity to sur­vive and, hope­fully, thrive well into the fu­ture. If ever so­ci­ety needed a strong me­dia in­dus­try to re­port the truth and to hold the pow­er­ful to ac­count, that time is now. The only prob­lem with this is that it also needs a strong, ac­count­able and trans­par­ent ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try to sup­port it.

Un­for­tu­nately, as P&G’S mar­ket­ing supremo Marc Pritchard said last year, “we have a me­dia sup­ply chain that is murky at best and fraud­u­lent at worst. We need to clean it up and in­vest the time and money we save into bet­ter ad­ver­tis­ing to drive growth”. His words, not mine. When the World Fed­er­a­tion of Ad­ver­tis­ers (WFA) an­nounced ear­lier last week that it was set­ting out to tackle the many is­sues that con­tinue to dog the murky world of on­line ad­ver­tis­ing, I felt some­what vin­di­cated and, dare I say, hope­ful.

The WFA rep­re­sents ad­ver­tis­ers and their trade as­so­ci­a­tions around the world, in­clud­ing the As­so­ci­a­tion of Ad­ver­tis­ers in Ire­land (AAI). Es­sen­tially, these are the com­pa­nies that fund the entire ad­ver­tis­ing ecosys­tem and with­out them, there is no strong and well-re­sourced me­dia in­dus­try in the fu­ture.

That it has taken the WFA so long to put its foot down is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. In­di­vid­u­ally many of its mem­bers have ex­pressed their own shock and out­rage at the level of ad fraud, wastage and murk­i­ness that has pre­vailed within the in­dus­try. But bet­ter late than never.

The publi­ca­tion of the WFA’S Global Me­dia Char­ter this week is the prod­uct of some top-level col­lab­o­ra­tion between many of the world’s top ad­ver­tis­ers as well as ad­ver­tiser as­so­ci­a­tions and it sets out eight clear ‘Prin­ci­ples for Part­ner­ship’ de­signed to cre­ate a bet­ter dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing ecosys­tem.

It also seeks to ad­dress the many con­cerns high­lighted by Unilever and Proc­ter & Gam­ble when it comes to things like trans­parency, brand safety, ad fraud and viewa­bil­ity by cre­at­ing a frame­work that agen­cies, ad-tech com­pa­nies and me­dia plat­forms should com­ply with if they want to se­cure ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enues in the fu­ture.

At a time when con­sumer trust in me­dia — par­tic­u­larly so­cial me­dia — is tak­ing a bit of a bat­ter­ing, it’s no co­in­ci­dence that con­sumer trust in on­line ad­ver­tis­ing is also at an all-time low with ad block­ing grow­ing by around 30pc a year glob­ally. If peo­ple are block­ing ad­ver­tis­ing, then why should ad­ver­tis­ers con­tinue to in­vest their money in on­line ad­ver­tis­ing?

“The dig­i­tal ecosys­tem has grown so rapidly, it’s no won­der that it’s far from per­fect. But the time for in­dul­gence is over,” said Stephan Lo­erke, CEO of the WFA ear­lier this week.

“The largest chunk of the world’s mar­ket­ing bud­gets is now in­vested in dig­i­tal plat­forms and ad­ver­tis­ers have a right to de­mand that the money they in­vest can be clearly tracked and un­der­stood.

“It’s not just about know­ing that bud­gets have been well spent. We also need to be re­as­sured that brand and con­sumer in­ter­ests are pro­tected in these new plat­forms.”

Some of the key prin­ci­ples which the WFA will in­tro­duce in­clude zero tol­er­ance to­wards ad fraud with com­pen­sa­tion for any breach in the form of full re­funds of all me­dia in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing fees and com­mis­sions, if non-hu­mans or bots are counted in the num­ber of impressions. In ad­di­tion, ad­ver­tis­ers will look to use third-party ver­i­fi­ca­tion so­lu­tions to as­sess ex­po­sure to ad fraud.

The WFA also in­tends to push for greater trans­parency through­out the sup­ply chain when it comes to pric­ing, trad­ing, fees and other costs as well as data us­age while also push­ing for much greater brand safety pro­tec­tion mea­sures by forc­ing plat­forms to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity and the con­se­quences for the con­tent car­ried on their sites.

Ad­ver­tis­ers will also com­mit to not spend­ing their money on plat­forms that in­fringe IP laws or sites re­spon­si­ble for fake news con­tent or dis­in­for­ma­tion.

It’s an am­bi­tious agenda, but one which I be­lieve is long over­due and most wel­come. And if that makes me anti-dig­i­tal, then so be it. Con­tact John Mcgee at john@ad­world.ie

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