IAB’s Advertising Gold Standard: 24-carat regulation or fool’s gold?

The UK’s Internet Advertising Bureau has vowed to clean up advertising with its new initiative. But purifying the industry will require an alchemist’s touch

Publishers are converting to the profitability of ads. Content marketers are finding innovative ways to use them. Content Desk has enthusiastically covered the advertising industry’s resurgence – and another big development is on the cards.

On 18 October, the UK’s Internet Advertising Bureau published new guidelines designed to give digital advertising a boost. Its aims are threefold:

  1. Reduce ad fraud by implementing the ads.txt initiative on all sites carrying ads
  2. Improve the digital advertising experience by adhering to the LEAN principles, the Coalition for Better Advertising standards and never using the 12 “bad” ads
  3. Increase brand safety by working with JICWEBS with a view to becoming certified or maintaining certification.

Don’t worry if this sounds jargon heavy – it is. The overarching theme is the key thing to remember, building on the IAB’s past work to drain the advertising swamp: reducing fraud, improving experiences and above all protecting brand safety.

In the cut and thrust of the digital world, media-owning giants can squash guidelines like these before they’re off the ground. The IAB’s are unique because many of these giants are on the Bureau’s board and have already pledged support – most notably Facebook and Google.

All that glistens

It’s clear the ad industry is crying out for reform. Research suggests a whopping 90% of ads are in some way fraudulent. The range of this fraud is uneven, but even the best publishers are recording substantial dubious traffic.

What is unclear is whether or not this new initiative marks the watershed moment. Big media owners are making all the right noises, but whether they will follow through with action is another matter.

After all, the new guidelines represent a consolidation rather than a sea change. The IAB has had rules in place since 2011 urging transparency around third party ad servers (aim 1). The Coalition for Better Advertising outlined a campaign against intrusive ads in June of this year – Google immediately signed up (aim 2). And in March of this year, Google announced a more stringent stance on brand safety, also alluded to in the IAB’s aforementioned 2011 guidance on transparency (aim 3).

The Gold Standard does enjoy some big name support, but Google, its biggest name, has ostensibly been trying to implement its aims since 2011. The fact that ad fraud is more prominent than ever suggests it hasn’t done so with a great deal of enthusiasm. It’s difficult to imagine other publishers picking up the slack now.

An undiscovered gold mine

Whether 18 October marked a revolutionary moment or merely a new round of corporate grandstanding, the outlook for content marketing is optimistic.

As Content Desk has pointed out, ads in themselves are not the problem for businesses trying to engage with consumers. It’s the way in which they can undermine the message of otherwise compelling content, afflicted as they are by the cynical whiff of money-spinning and tangential relevance to audiences.

Real change may be slow, but the IAB’s Gold Standard indicates a leap in the right direction. Clamping down on ad fraud will allow content marketers to get the best out of the advertising industry without the associated brand damage that can so easily follow.

The Gold Standard might not be perfect, but the fact that it exists at all shows the prospects are good for a rejuvenated relationship between content marketers and advertisers. For now, the terrain remains rocky and treacherous in the world of advertising. But, with precious metals lying just beneath and dedicated publishing prospectors striking closer all the time, content marketers should keep watch.

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