IAB UK Setting A Gold Standard In Improving Digital Marketing

Digital marketing has too complex a supply chain for any individual player to clear up the multiple issues everyone sees in their backyard, and so it's very encouraging to see the IAB UK's Gold Standard going from strength to strength. It's a combination of approaches to ensure that players are putting their house in order regarding fraud, safety and bad ads.

The organisation announced today that nine months after it was launched, 27 companies have been certified and a further 61 are in the pipeline. The expectation is that those awaiting certification will be compliant within six months.

For budget holders, this can only be a good thing. Commentators, including myself, had long called for a joined-up approach to tackle the issues of fraud, brand safety and the poor user experience that drives the public to download ad blockers. That is exactly what the Gold Standard does.

For fraud we have ads.txt, which is such a simple idea. Publishers list who is allowed to sell their inventory to prevent a third-party fraudster from pretending to be an authorised seller. It means that anyone looking to buy space on that site knows that the intermediary, likely to be a programmatic computer, is a legitimate source to book spots through.

Then we have brand safety guidelines from JICWEBS. It aims to cut down on inventory being placed next to unsavoury material through contracts that outline what is acceptable and not acceptable to both publisher and advertiser. It is based around independently certified content verification tools and subject to misplacement strategies that, again, need to be independently verified. 

Then we come to my favourite bit, the Coalition for Better Advertising's 12 bad ad formats that should be avoided. It's a common-sense guide to the ad units that are too large for the screen or get in the way of the content, and everyone's hated crime against user experience -- video or audio ads on autoplay, with the sound turned up.

I think it's fair to say that the IAB UK would be first among the list of those saying these three steps cannot cure every ill that besets digital marketing. Nothing could -- not entirely. However, it is at least a joined-up approach that helps minimise the risk of fraud and brand-safety issues. 

More importantly, for me, it's a recognition that if digital display doesn't get its act together, advertisers may stop the unrelenting growth in digital marketing budget, and just as crucially, people will continue to download ad blockers. It's coming to something when someone like myself has to admit there are often good reasons to download a blocker. Too many sites are cramming too many ads onto pages, and they're placing units over what you want to get to. They are simply getting in the way.

By adopting a stance where the industry has its house in order and the user experience is being improved, there is no legitimate reason to reach for an ad blocker. And by handing out certification to companies who combine this with tackling fraud and brand safety, I think the entire industry owes the IAB UK a massive debt of gratitude. 

The next step surely has to be for premium publishers to agree on some kind of kitemark of assured editorial quality, and then we'll really be cooking on gas. 

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