I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of talking about ‘brand safety’, ‘viewability’ and ‘ad fraud’. Not what you were expecting? Let me explain why. There’s only so much we can do standing on a stage delivering presentations, leading discussions in meetings or writing about what should be done to combat these issues that have plagued our industry for so long. Talk is cheap; now is the time to act.
If 2017 was the year of scandal, then 2018 was all about consolidation; we needed to rebuild the framework and establish new benchmarks of trust. Yet somewhere along the way we’ve lost our nerve, and in today’s ever-changing landscape, standing still is as good as moving backwards.
Becoming better digitally doesn’t just happen overnight; it takes working with the right partners to challenge, guide and show the true value that this new technology can yield if you don’t hold back. As an industry, we’re finally moving beyond the blame game (despite what the headlines would have you believe) and looking at the big picture, where being compliant doesn’t automatically mean playing it safe. This goes hand-in-hand with what I’ve talked about a lot so far in 2019: the importance of adopting a pioneer mindset. Not only will this allow you to break new ground and thrive in this digital age, but it frees you from the constraints of traditional thinking too.
Look, I’m not expecting miracles in one go, but adopting a ‘wait and see’ mentality isn’t a viable strategy either. For starters, the pace of change is too quick and if you aren’t prepared, you risk being left behind. Let me be clear, though, there has to be a fundamental shift in the way you think and operate, seizing the opportunity when it presents itself, and embracing, rather than fearing new technology.
This is where everyone in the advertising ecosystem needs to play their part in realigning perceptions and setting the record straight on what the digital world looks like today. The hesitancy to think programmatic-first comes from some misguided and outdated perceptions about its capabilities, as buzzwords have dominated headlines and been used in the worst possible context to crank up anxiety.
Creating a brand-safe environment is a collective concern for all stakeholders, which means equal responsibility in how we go about this. We need to educate, inform and show progress to rebuild trust and transparency in the ecosystem overall, and deploying the right ad-tech solutions will be key to this aim. We’ve seen things like Ads.txt for digital and code libraries specifically for mobile that have helped to regulate unauthorised inventory sales, adding additional protection for advertisers and contributing to a better cost-effective process overall. But we can still do more and should keep pushing forward to address issues head-on.
The biggest challenge we face right now is the growing battle to convince users to hand over their data. This month marks one year since GDPR came into play. Looking back, the mass scramble to get up to code ahead of implementation has calmed, and if anything has opened up the discussion around data privacy all the more. In the region, the IAB GCC will be looking to more advanced markets in adopting policies that will fit our local nuances, but this isn’t likely to take shape until 2020. The more immediate and global concern is this: if the same type and kind of user data can’t be accessed as freely as it once was, then it will be a game-changer for everyone in the supply chain.
If users are to be the gatekeepers, then the rules of engagement will need to change and a bargain will need to be struck. Users should understand and appreciate the benefits of data-driven advertising, just as publishers and advertisers must be transparent in how their data is used. There’s a trade-off for all parties, but convincing users of intention is a continuous uphill struggle, especially when big tech continues to come under fire.
Take Facebook. Revenue-wise, it is still flying, pulling in $15.08 billion in revenue for Q1, up 26 per cent year-over-year compared with Refinitiv’s consensus estimates, but stagnating user growth on its own platform (Instagram is another story) and seemingly endless data breaches have dented its once dominant position. It’s not like it’s the only one facing these issues; it’s just been unfortunate enough to be made an example of. A lot. However, Facebook still remains the best way to reach audiences, its global reach unrivalled, so don’t write it off just yet because I’ll tell you this: Zuckerberg won’t go down without a fight. From new regulation to a redesign of the platform, Facebook 2.0’s expected pivot to privacy will shift the landscape once again.
And herein lies both the problem and the opportunity, depending on your point of view. To become a leader in your field, calculated risks are a necessity. The market isn’t going to slow down for you to keep pace, which is why it all comes back down to business mindset. A pioneer will tear down walls, define new territory and find new ways to navigate this evolving digital terrain. The time has come to shake up the system and leave a new legacy behind. I’m all in, now it’s over to you.