OpenX Founder Talks Unilever, Trust In Advertising

Earlier this week at the IAB Leadership Summit in Palm Desert, California, ad heavyweight Unilever threatened to pull digital advertising from outlets like Facebook that have become a “swamp” for misinformation and worse, unless they reform.

Jason Fairchild, cofounder of OpenX, the largest global independent ad exchange, talked to Publishing Insider about how this moment could result in a new, and more trustworthy, digital landscape for advertisers.

PI:  Have we reached a tipping point in which the advertisers and publishers will take control and power?



JF: This week’s announcement by Unilever has less to do with power and control and far more to do with accelerating the consolidation of ad tech players to focus on fewer, high-quality, trusted platforms committed to putting the interests of brands -- and ultimately the consumer -- ahead of any short-term potential gains.

The “swampy” players Keith Weed, CMO at Unilever, referred to have eroded trust at a fundamental level. Unilever’s call to arms was a rallying cry for every actor to recognize that quality is a choice. It was a powerful line in the sand that most in the industry welcomed.

PI:  What are positive examples of digital outlets exercising responsible advertising?

JF: In today’s ecosystem, there are clear and measurable best practices that every reputable player in the advertising supply chain should follow.

First, everyone should align around the IAB’s ads.txt initiative and choose to only purchase inventory from sources listed in a publisher’s ads.txt file. One publisher vocal about this to date is Business Insider. Taking a hard stance will encourage more publishers to adopt the standard and ensure buyers accessing legitimate inventory. 

The second model for the industry to follow is to adopt TAG certified standards and only work with companies that have made the requisite investment to receive certification. In an independent review, TAG certification was found to cut out more than 80% of fraud.

PI: How might this move impact the digital advertising landscape beyond Facebook and Google?

JF: When Mark Pritchard spoke at the IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting last year, he called out the industry as a whole and the industry listened. This week, Weed raised the bar even further, making it clear we have a moral imperative to clean up the system and restore trust.

He is right. The truth is that the entire digital media and ad-tech industry needs to be thinking about ad quality. With major players like Unilever, P&G and even Google calling for immediate change, the industry is taking notice and appearing to, for the first time, make real commitments to quality.

But it is imperative that brands, agencies and DSPs understand the difference between lip service and true commitments to quality and point their media investments to the players that “walk the quality walk.” True investments in quality can be measured by a company’s adoption of, and investment in, third-party standards, such as Ads.txt and TAG (audited) certification.

PI: Anything else you’d like to add?

JF: What we heard from Unilever this week was yet another sign of the fundamental reality that quality is a choice. Publishers can put in place strict quality standards that serve to elevate trust and value for the entire industry. For the first time, brands are demanding accountability at the same time we have the actual tools to deliver third-party verified trust.

This is the perfect storm moment to clean out the bad actors and rebuild long-term trust in digital advertising.   

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