Slouching Toward Validity

by , , Aug 18, 2006, 6:00 AM
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Here's some news: the Interactive Advertising Bureau announced last week that a group of eight major marketers, including Colgate-Palmolive, Ford Motor Company and Visa, will demand audited numbers from interactive publishers by mid-2007 and measurement-certified numbers by 2008. This is a victory for industry standards.

The victory seems to be the result of an odd alliance, however. Reading between the lines, you get the sense that the IAB was the principal driver urging these major marketers into making this demand. The quote featured in all the reports from Greg Stuart, the IAB's CEO, reads, "As more dollars migrate over to interactive, it is imperative as an industry that we continue to strive for the highest levels of transparency and validity. We are confident this is just the beginning and other leading marketers will join this group."

Stuart could be lamenting this development and his quote could be a warning to interactive publishers. If so, however, I think the quote might read "We are afraid this is just the beginning," or, groan, "Sorry to say, advertisers are serious this time." Instead, it appears Stuart is selling something and extending an invitation to advertisers to start insisting on standards. He is urging them on: who will join us? Who will help send the message to IAB membership and the broader interactive publishing community that transparency and validity are important, and we should be leading, not following, as industry participants dependent on ad revenue, today and tomorrow?

I say good for Greg Stuart and good for the IAB!

What a total pain, though, eh? Here's the CEO of the leading trade association representing interactive sellers, trying to leverage an agreement from a measly eight major marketers in order to compel his constituents to sign up for a transparent and valid business environment. Ugh. With some fanfare, the IAB issued ad measurement and certification and auditing guidelines back in 2004. Two years later, eight major marketers have announced the guidelines count, and you can practically feel people yawning: eight major marketers. Piffle. Wake me when it's 500.

I wonder why the announcement wasn't that the entire IAB membership had, at last, implemented the ad measurement guidelines issued by the IAB in 2004. In which case, Greg Stuart, CEO, might have said, "It is imperative as an industry that we continue to strive for the highest levels of transparency and validity. The burden of leadership in this regard is on the publishing community, and I'm proud to say that the IAB's entire membership, representing 86 percent of all ad revenue online, has fully implemented the 2004 guidelines. We urge all interactive publishers to follow." (Full disclosure: that would include my company, Burst Media, not a member of the IAB but a provider audited and system-certified for six years by BPA Worldwide).

The opposite could be true, of course. The IAB could be assuring its members that their investment in auditing and measurement over the last two years will not be in vain. Marketers are finally choosing to discriminate. I think it would be clearer to all of us, however, if we knew the preponderance of publishers were compliant, on their own or through third-party ad servers. Instead, only a handful of "leading" publishers and ad servers are ever mentioned, implying that all are not aboard who may come aboard.

Admittedly, this is all somewhat idle blather with a goal maybe (presuming the most) to help the IAB bait buyers and sellers into caring about audit standards. Truthfully, as we know, the marketplace will determine on its own when transparency and validity really matter, and that will be when there are enough buyers spending enough money. That may be even more interesting by itself, because clearly we haven't reached that point yet on the display advertising side. Amazing: several billion dollars isn't enough to move hearts and minds. In contrast, click fraud has people practically knocking each other down in the aisles at paid search conferences. Several billion dollars in that business means a lot. Long-term, the contrast in current requirements points to a substantially bigger display advertising marketplace online.

We won't hear from Greg Stuart about this again in his capacity as CEO at the IAB, however. He resigned this week.

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