Pete Robins, chair of the IPA digital media group and managing partner at agenda21
As the media industry continues its unrelenting shift towards online content and usage, there have been innumerable changes in the way advertising is planned, bought and sold. Anyone who entered the industry a decade ago has witnessed a time of huge and fascinating change. Our industry’s job is to be one step ahead, to seek out new opportunities and hence its evolution has been fast. However, there have been challenges. One of the most significant aspects of the changes witnessed is the shift to technology to place online advertising and its potential impact on brand safety.
Online advertising is no longer a marginal activity carried out by forward thinking brands; it has become an integral part of mainstream advertising. A quick look at the IAB/PwC figures for 2011 shows total online spend is up 14.4%, with online display up 13.4% to £1,128m, and as spend increases we are seeing the digital advertising ecosystem grow to encompass more operators and specialist services.
The rise of real-time bidding and, especially, impression-level targeting has had an impact on the buying process. The potential cost and performance benefits of this technology make it extremely valuable, yet automation also brings a degree of risk. Agencies have the task of protecting their clients’ investments and reputations by choosing both relevant but also safe destinations for each ad. What both media buyers and their clients need is to be reassured as regards the capability of technology to deliver confidence in the buying process as a whole. It has become increasingly apparent that a set of industry wide, best practice standards are needed to ensure everyone knows the rules and can be held accountable. The UK digital advertising industry was quick to recognise this need and has responded by establishing the Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG), facilitated by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), with the express aim of securing a safer environment for online advertising placement.
IASH were one of the first groups to take this on board and it is fair to say their aim in encouraging best practice amongst advertising sales houses has been invaluable. However, as the digital advertising eco-system has evolved it became apparent that a new body was required to encompass the wider range of organisations involved in online ad placement. The last few years have seen the addition of Agency Trading Desks, Demand Side Platforms, Ad Exchanges, Supply Side Platforms and real time operators within the trading space. IASH needed to evolve and sit with these new platforms in order to continue to deliver reassurance to the market. To establish a set of individual guidelines for each new facet of the industry would not be realistic; a set of overarching trading principles that reassure planners and buyers that sufficient safeguards are in place to protect their positions and ensure an appropriate destination for their ads is achievable. ABC, as an independent body governed by the media industry, was the obvious choice to help facilitate the work of the DTSG, which has now been meeting regularly since 2011.
The DTSG is an independent body, and will have its own governance structure, to ensure it represents the whole digital advertising eco-system and responds to needs across the industry. Like IASH, the ethos of the DTSG is not about enforcing new compliance regulations; it’s about making compliant trading achievable and transparent. The work of the DTSG is being rolled out over the coming months, and IASH will be phased out over the same time period. The new group is open to organisations from right across that ecosystem, and is made up of individuals representing nine different organisation types involved in the trading and delivery of online advertising. New principles have now been established, and the group is working to build agreements with trading partners and a verification programme to demonstrate compliance with the principles.