Why The IAB Shouldn't Worry -- Brands Love Digital And Will Renew Their Vows

It was so exciting at first. Old traditions were torn up, new opportunities beckoned, and even the men in grey suits nodded as marketers bid for more money to go digital first, and then mobile first. Like any new relationship, things are always pretty rosy at first, and even the sage words of friends are overlooked as we rush in. A while later, the grey underwear appears on the radiator, the door is no longer held open and we've had a chance to meet the in-laws. Reality bites.

That's the challenge for the new CEO at IAB UK, Jon Mew, which he has set out in Marketing Week. To be honest, if you were trying to make marketers fall back in love with any channel, digital is a pretty good place to start. It's where the budget is going now that advertising and marketing are on the verge of being digital-first, and within that, mobile-first. Press has fallen off a cliff and only television remains as a sizeable portion of the pie chart representing UK ad spend. So let's not be too moribund. Digital's not starting out from a bad place.

The issues remain, however. How do marketers know they are simply not wasting half their budget, as the old axiom suggests is usually the case? After all, report after report puts the combination of ad fraud and viewability to be roughly at least 50% of budget. In other words, only half of the money going into display ends up in ads being seen by humans. Then you have to factor in ad blocking. It depends whom you talk to, but the IAB reckons that around one in seven are blocking ads, and this can rise to as much as a quarter or third of male Millennials. 

Then you have the disappointment that invariably comes with all but the biggest brand names when they try to unlock the value of social. All they generally find is that Facebook throttles back access to organic growth, tweets are ignored among an ocean of other messages and they're left with another medium for advertising -- albeit one that is highly suited to accurate targeting.

The crux here is that brands are at the mercy of ad fraudsters on the one hand and ad networks and publishers that are not always incentivised to get it right. It's simply far easier to take the cash and worry about where the views are coming from and where the ads end up later on.

This isn't the IAB's fault, and you have to say it's doing what it can to counter the issues -- but it can only move at the pace an industry with representatives in its many different niches wants to collectively progress at. There's a system in place for brand safety certification, and the same is becoming true of viewability and fraud. In fact, as I understand it, it was establishing how to deal with two sides of a familiar problem that has provided the complications that have led to a certification system gaining traction this year, rather than last.

So to be fair, the IAB is doing what it can and making at a pace that its members are comfortable with. My advice would be to move beyond advice and guidance on ad formats to have a certification system that only decent, unobtrusive ads are supported by sites bearing a particular kite mark. Add together the facts that a publisher only runs responsible ads on a site which is safe and reports back accurately on whether a unit has been viewed by a human or not. Then, I think, you have the building blocks for a bright marriage.

It may not be as heady as those early days and expectations may have to be realigned with reality, but that's life, isn't it?

1 comment about "Why The IAB Shouldn't Worry -- Brands Love Digital And Will Renew Their Vows".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 6, 2017 at 8:58 a.m.

    I don't know what the mix or advertising types in the UK is, Sean, however, I suspect that it is much like it is in the U.S. In other words, most digital advertising is not branding advertising but, rather, search, DR, promotional, etc. advertising, while much of TV advertising is paid for by branding campaigns. I believe that by ignoring this vital distinction one creates a most misleading picture, namely that "digital" rules advertising---based on total "ad spend" data---when, in fact there are various kinds of advertising and digital does not rule the branding type----not by a long shot and for some of the reasons you mention, plus many others. So brands who engage in branding campaigns are not "at the mercy of fraudsters" unless they place most of their bets on digital media----but why should they?

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