IAB’s present ‘Gold Standard’ to defeat ad fraud

Interactive Advertising Bureau’s UK department has launched a new initiative to spearhead a movement to help the digital advertising industry clean up some of its bad advertising. Twenty three of IAB’s members have signed a letter of intent from IAB, promising to implement changes in their respective digital advertising businesses.

Called the “IAB Gold Standard,” the initiative is comprised of three best practice goals: to reduce ad fraud, to increase brand safety, and to improve the viewing experience for the end user. By addressing these issues, IAB contends it can “build a sustainable future for the industry.”

While brands and marketers had begun shifting larger and larger budgets to digital advertising because of its precision targeting and advanced analytics, the digital advertising supply chain and ecosystem is still rife with ad fraud. Concerns about measurement began to grow when Facebook announced in 2016 it had been miscalculating some of the viewership metrics it delivers to advertisers for two years.

To be sure, 2017 has been a tough year for digital advertising. At the start of the year, Proctor and Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard cut through the hype of digital advertising by proclaiming it “murky at best, fraudulent at worst,” and announcing the company would be reviewing all of its agency contracts.

“P&G believed the myth that we could be the latest mover on all the new shiny objects despite the lack of standards in measurement and verification,” Pritchard said at the IAB’s annual leadership meeting in the US. “We’ve come to our senses and realized there is no sustainable advantage in a complicated, non-transparent, inefficient and fraudulent media supply chain.”

P&G certainly isn’t the first major brand to bring skepticism to the rosy world view of digital advertising, but the message was not lost on the IAB. In fact, it was only reinforced when, a few months later, YouTube suffered what has become known as its ‘Adpocalypse,’ during which a raft of brands and advertisers began pulling ads from YouTube after it was revealed that some advertisements were being run against extremist videos.

YouTube’s Adpocalypse coincided with a wider retreat from brands, particularly TV brands who had increased their digital ad budgets but hadn’t achieved the results they were looking for in terms of reach. Now, digital advertising publishers and ad tech firms are eager to regain the trust of brands and regain access to their media budgets. And the IAB is eager to demonstrate that it’s taking brand concerns seriously.

“Everyone agrees that digital advertising standards need to improve to keep this industry sustainable and thriving,” said IAB’s head of digital, Tim Elkington. “Media owners need to send a clear signal to advertisers and agencies that they take their responsibilities seriously to offer the best environment possible so that brands can confidently use digital advertising.”
Publishers such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Vevo and Guardian Media Group have all pledged support for the initiative, as have adtech firms AppNexus, Videology, Teads, Viant, Verizon’s Oath and others. But in order for actual changes to be made in the digital advertising ecosystem, these pledges will need to turn into action.

IAB has laid some groundwork as to what that action might look like: it has released an ad fraud program called ads.txt to help bring some clarity and transparency to the space. Ads.txt is a rather simply solution: it’s a text document that lists who is authorized to sell inventory on each specific site. The idea is that a brand that’s using a third party to place an ad on a news site, for example, can quickly determine if that third party is authorized to sell inventory on that specific site. IAB launched ads.txt earlier this year, and to date only a handful of publishers have adopted it.

IAB’s Gold Standard will require its members to work with the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards in the UK and Ireland (JICWEBS) to ensure that the digital advertising adheres to Display Trading Standards Group’s brand safety principles. IAB noted it may implement a certification for brand safety that publishers will need to maintain.

In addressing the viewing experience, IAB is also calling for its members to adopt the “LEAN” principles and the standards set by the Coalition for Better Ads. Those standards include a list of 12 “bad” ad formats that the coalition has voluntarily retired. Those formats span both mobile and desktop, and range from the dreaded pop-up ad to autoplay ads with sound, and large sticky ads.

But all of these ideas amount to cheap talk for brands and marketers until changes are actually implemented. And on that front, IAB hasn’t made much progress. While outlining what it hopes its members will do, the IAB statement notes that a deadline for implementing these changes has yet to be set. It’s safe to bet that until these changes are actually in place within the digital ecosystem, wary brands may extend the hold on their digital ad budgets.