Digital advertising is a £165 billion industry, but it is one that has a fairly significant problem. Yet after a gathering of key decision makers last week, we may be one step closer to a long-term solution.
Let’s take a step back. Think about the way you’ll spend your day today, from avoiding eye contact on the commute to checking your phone before you head to bed. According to recent data, you’ll spend a third of the day “online”; in five years’ time it’ll be even more. And whether you’re checking emails, Googling, booking tickets or wasting time on Snapchat, it’s fuelling our era-defining appetite for all things digital – an appetite strong enough to support dozens of new industries and millions of new jobs. Ultimately, many of those industries and people are reliant on doing one thing well: monetising your attention.
Digital media owners – the ones who make the content, services and platforms we now love and use daily – need to make money. And that’s where you come in. For most of them, your attention is a valuable commodity, and one they happily trade in the search for a sustainable business model. From the first time you clicked ‘like’ on Facebook to the next time you let Alexa write your shopping list – you leave a trail of digital breadcrumbs that helps sellers sell, advertisers advertise, and a few intermediaries take a cut along the way. Sounds fair and simple, right?
Sadly not. The digital media supply chain has very quickly become very cluttered – riddled with loopholes, blind spots, hidden costs and more. Every link in the chain played their part, meaning that despite exponential growth, the burgeoning adtech industry was (morally) built on sand. “Where there’s mystery, there’s margin” says Jaguar Land Rover executive Ian Armstrong, in a new report from Clarity client iotec – the independent, transparent media buying platform. Even the world’s most successful tech giants – the pioneers of commoditising our digital lives – have faced backlash and reputational damage over transparency and control of content. Brands are growing worried, as made clear by some major stick-rattling by FMCG giant Unilever just last week.
Here at Clarity we love a challenge – it’s why we specialise in telling complex technology stories in compelling ways, and building challenger brands that disrupt the status quo and take on titans of industry. So we partnered with iotec to launch Ethical Adtech: an industry group with the aim of standardising and normalising a transparent, ethical approach to digital advertising. It’s a platform for leaders across the advertising supply chain to set aside competition, create a set of ethical standards, and work together to encourage industry-wide adoption.
Launched at an invite-only event in association with The Drum last week, where a panel discussion featured execs from iotec, TSB, Clear Channel, Jaguar Land Rover and ISBA, the group put forward a manifesto for change based on three core areas: (i) transparency and fair trading, (ii) efficiency and effectiveness, and (iii) brand protection, security and privacy.
For a publisher like The Atlantic, which creates original content for over 50 million readers a month, unethical adtech poses a risk to their own brand, their readers and their brand partners. When we caught up with Jemima Villanueva, Executive Director for EMEA at The Atlantic, she explained: “This is an important discussion that our industry simply can’t avoid any longer. As a publisher, we have to be constantly vigilant when it comes to monitoring content (and its context) on our site – but the challenge ripples through the whole digital media industry. We are all responsible for addressing transparency in digital advertising, and we are all responsible for promoting and rewarding ethical practices throughout the digital media supply chain. That’s why it’s so important for the industry to back the Ethical Adtech initiative, have a voice in this conversation and start thinking about how they can play a role inside their own organisation.”
As the panel discussed last week, bringing clarity and transparency to the digital advertising industry is a huge challenge. It will take years of collective effort, and may even require budgets to shift before the big platforms make serious changes. But big change starts with big ideas, and a fairer adtech ecosystem is an idea that’s not hard to get behind. Let’s hope brands, buyers, vendors and publishers do what’s right, and join the Ethical Adtech revolution.
Find out how to support the Ethical Adtech initiative by following @EthicalAdtech on Twitter or visiting: www.ethical.adtech.org