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I'm a believer: IAB's Guy Phillipson on facing up to digital's biggest issues

Guy Phillipson is chief executive of the Internet Advertising Bureau UK (IAB). His monthly blog examines the latest developments in the online ad space.

It was just six weeks ago when I was sitting in the garden reading my ad tech industry news feeds – as is my wont around Sunday teatime – that I had the idea to launch the IAB Believes series. Quite a few articles alluded to one challenge or another – be it ad verification or privacy. And whilst we’ve been working on these issues for years, and we’ve published standards and reported progress on a regular basis, I thought it would be a bold move to round up the ‘five biggies’ and go public with a concerted campaign.

And so ‘IAB Believes’ was born.

This week, we’ve made our industry position very clear on Brand Safety, Viewability, Ad Fraud, Ad Blocking and Privacy. Dedicating one day to each issue, with a summary statement and a detailed article explaining how we’re tackling each challenge. It’s been a cathartic exercise, but hugely worthwhile.

Above all, IAB Believes demonstrates that we have a clear position and a solid programme to tackle each topic, and that’s reflected in the commentary IAB Believes has attracted from a wide range of influential industry players.

This one, from AppNexus's Nigel Gilbert, captures the sentiment pretty well: "We are really excited about the IAB Believes initiative, which recognises the progress made in addressing some of the most controversial issues facing digital advertising. In an industry that has long wrestled with the twin challenges of quality and verification, it is time to acknowledge that big strides have been made and that solutions and policies ensuring a transparent and reliable marketplace for online inventory are now available."

From my high level discussions with CMOs, when I asked them to prioritise ‘the big five’, their two biggest concerns are actually brand safety and viewability.

We‘re in a good place with brand safety. As long as advertisers and agencies work with the 38 (and growing) companies accredited by the Display Trading Standards Group (DTSG), the chance of a brand appearing on an inappropriate site is greatly diminished. In addition, the Infringing website List (IWL) has reduced incidence of brand ads appearing on copyright infringing sites by 73 per cent.

And we’re making great strides on viewability, in partnership with IAB US and the UK cross-industry standards body, JICWEBS. Over the coming months several more ad verification companies will join the four existing JICWEBS-accredited vendors, as we strive to standardise how viewability is measured.

During various discussions with CMOs, I’ve received very encouraging feedback – with many of the big players using an accredited tech partner intelligently to optimise viewability to a stated threshold. This is exactly our advice at this stage, as we move the industry towards the highest standards.

During IAB Believes, I’ve gone on record as saying “in 12 months’ time I’m confident that brand safety, viewability and ad fraud will be straightforward hygiene factors”. Ultimately, I believe ad verification metrics will be built into ad servers. Then we’ll be in the enviable position to offer advertisers guaranteed attention for their campaigns, and further proof that digital ad spend can be monitored more effectively than any other medium.

IAB Believes week rounds off with the two consumer facing issues – ad blocking and privacy.

Anyone familiar with the IAB will know that we pioneered the AdChoices programme to give consumers transparency and control over how their data is used to make advertising more relevant and effective. This took years to implement and has great traction with both consumers and industry. I’m immensely proud of our Regulatory team’s work in this area, and the IAB’s continuing influence at European level.

With Ad Blockers, it may look as though IAB Believes is facing up to its demon. But I don’t see it that way. Our YouGov research shows that the 15 per cent of UK online population applying ad blockers is generally younger and male; but the majority aren’t aware that they are denying publishers the ad revenue which keeps the content they enjoy FREE.

So there’s clearly an education job to be done, but there’s a valuable lesson for publishers, too. Frankly, nobody wants content surrounded by a cluttered, flashing perimeter of annoying ads. And as IAB Believes develops, one of our rallying cries will be ‘quality content and quality ads’. The value exchange commands respect, and it’s a two way street between the citizen and the publisher.

At the end of IAB Believes week, I have to say I’m so pleased with the reception and feedback we’ve received. And I’d particularly like to thank the IAB Board, our specialist steering groups, and JICWEBS for helping to make it happen.

Of course we’re on a journey, hitting important milestones all the time. But the key thing is – across all the buy-side and sell-side stakeholders – we’re in this together. The five IAB Believes issues can only be resolved at industry level, and after this week, I’m proud to report…

We’re all believers!

Guy Phillipson is chief executive of the Internet Advertising Bureau UK (IAB). He tweets @GuyPhillipson

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