The state of transparency in 2018: We’re in for a bumpy ride

IAB CEO Vijay Solanki considers what 2018 has in store for brand safety, transparency and programmatic advertising. Where do we go from here?

There is no disputing the fact that transparency and brands safety were the two issues that cast a shadow over digital in 2017. As tough as that may have made it for those of us in the industry, the scrutiny has ultimately been beneficial.

First off, it has shone a light on what wasn’t known and understood by marketers. It is clear that a lot of the fear and uncertainty was driven by a lack of knowledge and the awareness that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. This has led to the development of much better rules of engagement, improved communication and education levels.

Secondly, it has provided a clear marker for everyone in the digital eco-system to work together to allay any residual fears and to build trust while weeding out the (very few) bad actors that remain.

There’s much more to come though and as we move into 2018, I expect to see the following shifts around brand safety and transparency:

In this together

Even the most vocal critics of digital can’t deny that consumers are becoming increasingly immersed in digital. Ubiquitous smartphone ownership, the advance of wearables and other internet of things applications and the development of voice technologies all are driving marketing creativity and reshaping marketing plans. Consequently, it’s up to the entire media ecosystem to work together to foster strong and sustained confidence.

The IAB, AANA and MFA have already established a working group to design and publish a common set of best-practice operating standards to improve transparency in the digital advertising supply chain. It is my hope and belief that the industry will become increasingly collegiate when it comes to big issues like this. Siloed initiatives can’t and won’t lift the industry in the long term.

Technology drives transparency

Technology will play a pivotal role in improving trust and transparency during 2018. The introduction of ads.txt across the globe in 2017 has already helped to significantly reduce the risk of domain spoofing and is a great example of the industry working together. Expect to see further technological advances to help combat fraud with US IAB Tech Labs scheduled to deliver a number of solutions during 2018. Also remember that ad fraud stands at just 4%, so with every additional initiative we move closer to zero.

IAB, along with wider media stakeholders, will also ramp up R&D investment in blockchain projects designed to minimise ad fraud and maximise brand safety. Although blockchain is in its early days when it comes to media applications, some US players are quite far down the track. Earlier this year for example, Nasdaq launched NYIAX, a blockchain-enabled media trading platform earlier in 2017. NYIAX’s CTO/CPO also chairs the IAB group on block chain, so watch this space.

Measurement is also key to transparency and building trust. After a seminal year for measurement that saw the introduction of Daily Content Ratings (DCR), we will continue to see better measurement of digital – from the continued evolution of DCR, through to better ways to measure audio and video.

Natural attrition

The brand safety issues of 2017 have highlighted the risk factors of buying cheap remnant inventory. This, and the increasing adoption of ads.txt by key publishers, should begin to reduce demand for the cut price ‘spray and pray’ inventory that remains. Sadly, it would be premature to say that this practice will be eliminated entirely in 2018, but we will see a few fall by the wayside (and good riddance). We also need to remember that to achieve good practice both parties (buy and sell side) have to do the right thing: it takes two to tango.

Natural selection

While this is a perennial prediction across all media categories, we will inevitably see further consolidation within digital – and I’d be keeping a close eye on those companies that operate in the third-party verification space. In 2017 we saw Oracle acquire Moat and if I were a betting man I’d wager that we will see similar big enterprise acquisitions in this space over the next 12 months.

Consolidation is inevitable in an industry that is barely 20 years old, but the cycle speeds will get faster. Companies will come, go, merge, acquire at a faster rate than the past – so buckle up.

One language

As consumers become more and more immersed in digital, expectations will continue to evolve and the consumer will choose how, where and if to interact with a brand. To facilitate this, the role of data and technology will be front and centre of every company within the industry in some form.

The twin pillars of data and technology will impact every form of marketing, media and publishing and will require all marketers, agencies, publishers and platforms, no matter what their specialism, to speak a common language. I see 2018 as the year that we join more dots between disparate points of the media and marketing ecosystem, creating mutual respect between the digital experts and the brand experts. This will be critical to drive better outcomes for consumers – which ultimately means better outcomes for the advertising and media industry.

Vijay Solanki is CEO of IAB Australia


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