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Poor uptake of the IAB Gold Standard is a sad indictment of our media agencies

Quick quiz for you: how many column inches – in The Drum and beyond – have been devoted to talk of negative online advertising, ad safety, fraud and so on? Ok, bad news is I don’t have an answer for you, but I’m going to guess at hundreds of thousands. Millions probably.

You’d think in all that time someone would have come up with a way to address these problems and try to create a more open, honest and trusted environment in which brands could advertise online, confident they were paying the right price for genuine ads to appear on strategically planned sites against appropriate content.

It would just need one of the UK’s digital industry bodies to put together, I don’t know, some sort of accreditation system supported by digital media owners which media agencies could commit to in order to publicly declare their commitment to these goals and in turn reassure their clients that their brand name was in safe hands.

Huh.

Oh, hang on a second.

Hold that thought.

It turns out there is one. Who knew?!

Well, we did. And so did two other agencies [MediaCom North and MiQ]. But it seems not many others did.

In October 2017 it was reported that the IAB was preparing to launch the IAB Gold Standard [registration opened in January 2018], a shiny new initiative designed to reduce ad fraud, improve the digital advertising experience and increase brand safety.

Something like 23 IAB UK board member companies, among them Facebook, Google, Oath, Twitter, Weve, Microsoft and News UK, signed a letter committing to improving digital advertising standards in the UK with the implementation of a new Gold Standard of digital advertising in order to build a more sustainable future for the industry.

The accreditation would see agencies commit to the following three actions:

  1. To reduce ad fraud by implementing the ads.txt initiative on all sites carrying ads.
  2. To improve the digital advertising experience by adhering to the LEAN principles, the Coalition for Better Advertising standards and never using the 12 "bad" ads.
  3. To increase brand safety by working with Jicwebs with a view to becoming certified or maintaining certification.

Last month MC&C Media were delighted to pass the IAB Gold Standard. And even more proud when we found out we were the first independent agency to do so. But then slightly shocked to find we were one of only three UK media agencies to have bothered to become fully certified.

Which got me wondering: why? The whole process took a combined two-three working days to complete and it wasn’t hugely expensive at just £2,500. So what’s holding agencies back?

The reluctance to have it confirmed through a respected third party that their online trading focuses on brand safety as well as performance?

The reluctance to be able to reassure a client wholly and with absolute confidence that they have taken every possible step towards ensuring their brand is safe online?

The reluctance to teach their young talent about the importance of creating an open and honest environment for online advertising lest the negative press that has been damaging the sector for the last few years starts escalating so much that it becomes a breeding ground of mistrust?

While 48 companies – mainly media owners – have been awarded the Gold Standard to date, I genuinely can’t fathom why so few agencies have taken this on. Maybe there’s a backlog in paperwork and this time next week there will be scores more accredited and I’ll be eating my words. But you know what, if that’s the case then I’d welcome it.

Throughout my career I have seen the reputation of digital advertising periodically suffer as both the industry and national press have attacked current measures the platforms have in place. When it finally feels like we’ve got an opportunity to take a giant stride in the right direction, no one seems to be embracing the opportunity for positive change.

I would urge every agency leader, for the sake of making all our lives easier, to look into the IAB Gold Standard. It will break neither your backs nor your banks, but the small investment will pay dividends for a long time to come.

Robin Trust is managing director at MC&C Media

Correction: The IAB contacted The Drum to clarify that 48 companies have been certified for the Gold Standard, higher than the 27 initially reported [per a blogpost on the IAB website published in June].

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