Once again, Advertising Week has come and gone. And once again, I was thrilled to be part a special event for our industry. It’s not often that you can get famous statistician Nate Silver, Olympian Lolo Jones, and musician Bootsy Collins under a single tent, but they were all there at Ad Week – along with the biggest executive names – adding to a vigorous exchange of ideas about the future of advertising.
I had the pleasure of kicking off the “Trust Forum” presented by OpenX. As the program materials noted, “Advertising and trust have always had a challenging and somewhat tortured relationship.” It’s a statement that feels more true now than ever before as advertising is becoming more deeply digital, which provides many benefits to marketers. But it is also a place where bots, hackers, viruses, and other things that undermine trust are prevalent. During the Trust Forum, I was honored to interview Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, on trust-related issues and later to give some closing comments after a series of panels on the topic.
Because turnabout is fair play – and also because we should seize every opportunity to extend ADWEEK – for this post, I am going to give my own answers to a few of the questions that I had posed to Bob on the subject of trust.
Why is the advertising industry so focused on the issue of trust today?
There are two separate discussion points on trust in the industry right now, and both are extremely important. First, trust in advertising from a business perspective has become an issue for those who make their living at it. In recent years, there has been rapid change in the way that publishers, marketers, agencies, and others interact. For participants in the market, it feels like the ground is shifting under their feet, leading to instability and uncertainty over which aspects of the business they can rely on for any amount of time.
Separately, there is the issue of trust in the advertising product itself. The public may already view advertising with a degree of skepticism. As more advertising appears on digital platforms, however, and more information (and misinformation) spreads about issues such as targeted advertising and data collection, the public is becoming even more wary.
Digital media is undoubtedly becoming more and more important, but we also hear about bots and other things that induce nervousness about online environments. How can advertisers limit the erosion of trust around digital media?
Massive leaps in technology and media have given advertisers and agencies equally massive benefits. They have given consumers massive benefits as well, delivering them the information that they want when they want it, in a way that was impossible to conceive just a generation ago.
When technology delivers benefits, however, it almost always has a dark side. In the advertising realm, this has led to abuses through traffic robots and other means of rigging the system. Frankly, there may not be much that any one actor – no matter how large – can do on its own in response. The answer lies in the industry coalescing together. As a united force, we have a better chance of ensuring the integrity of the digital advertising ecosphere.
What are advertisers doing specifically to address this issue of trust?
I’m encouraged by the action that multiple parties – marketers, advertisers, and the key associations – are taking together. Most importantly, industry participants are funding a group, Trustworthy Accountability Group, to help come up with solutions.
Regarding fraud in online advertising, is the solution a technology solution or a law enforcement solution?
I don’t think the solution is exclusively a technological one. Even though many of those who are undermining trust in digital advertising are based outside the United States, there is a substantial role for law enforcement to play in pursuing criminal actors. Civil enforcement through government agencies and the courts may also have a role to play. This is an “all of the above” solution.
Are the trust issues with digital media qualitatively different from those that occurred in the early days of other new media, such as radio, television, or even billboard advertising?
Virtually every new form of media has suffered problems and abuses in its early stages. The problem is magnified here because of how successful the medium has been. Digital advertising has not had time to evolve while flying under the radar, because it has never been under the radar.