Just over a year ago, three of the leading advertising trade organizations – IAB, ANA, and 4A’s – formed the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) to address several critical challenges affecting digital advertising, including fraud, piracy, malware, and lack of transparency. These issues not only cost the U.S. digital advertising ecosystem an estimated $8.2 billion annually, but also erode consumer confidence in advertisers generally – and the brands they represent.
TAG has grown exponentially since its inception, attracting cross-industry participation and support from the world’s largest advertisers, agencies, publishers, and ad-tech companies. Its board of directors includes executives from Facebook, Google, IPG Mediabrands, JCPenney, McDonald’s, Mondelez, Motorola, NBCUniversal, Omnicom, P&G, Publicis, Unilever, and WPP.
All of TAG’s programs drive collective accountability within the digital advertising industry. Its first initiative, the Certified Against Piracy program, validates the anti-piracy services of leading ad-tech companies. This was quickly followed by the Fraud Threat List, a shared database of domains running traffic bots, along with a matching program to block fraudulent traffic from data centers. Last fall, TAG announced the Verified by Tag initiative, a revolutionary two-factor authentication system that will provide complete transparency for the entire online advertising process by ensuring every transaction is done through an accredited entity.
The Way I See It
- The advertising industry relies on the trust of both brands and consumers. Anything that undermines advertising’s credibility hurts all who benefit from it. Digital advertising provides tremendous opportunity but, as we have seen, also comes with risks. Fraud, malware, piracy, and a lack of transparency have plagued this burgeoning sector, with the potential to create fear and distrust among brands and consumers alike.
- TAG is doing crucial work. It has quickly secured the participation of a broad group of stakeholders. This is particularly important because the complex and distributed nature of the digital advertising supply chain means problems must be addressed collectively. Working together gives the industry the best change to overcome challenges and create an environment for success and innovation.
The Way Industry Sees It
I sat down with TAG CEO, Mike Zaneis, to discuss the organization’s work and impressive first year.
Why is it so important to have industry stakeholders working collectively to address fraud, piracy, malware, and transparency in the digital advertising ecosystem?
This type of criminal activity impacts everyone in the ecosystem, from marketers and ad agencies to networks and publishers, so everyone has a stake in the fight. Furthermore, you can’t build transparency across an opaque digital supply chain without a cross-industry commitment from every legitimate entity that touches an ad to be involved in the effort and do the right thing to build trust in the marketplace. The synergies in what TAG is doing are proving to be extremely powerful.
How did you build such strong buy-in from industry leaders so quickly?
Put simply, we launched TAG with the unequivocal support of the most important trade associations across the industry – the 4As, ANA, and IAB – which gave us immediate credibility and scale. Given the disproportionate influence of a relatively small number of major companies in the digital ad industry, we also recognized that their buy-in was vital to our success, so we made sure that every program we launched had big name companies already committed to participating. By working closely with those corporate leaders, we’ve helped ensure that we have a “tipping point” of adoption almost as soon as we’ve announced a new program, and we can move it quickly into the marketplace.
What do you consider TAG’s biggest success so far?
It’s worth noting that TAG is barely a year old, so we’re still a very young organization, and I’m very proud of the capabilities that we’ve built in that short amount of time. To date, we have organized over 150 companies across our various working groups and committees, which has given us deep topical expertise and allowed us to launch major programs in each of our four focus areas of transparency, fraud, piracy, and malware. We’ve simultaneously had to build the organizational and financial infrastructure to support our programs, and I’m proud that we’ve already been able to achieve financially independence. That said, if I had to pick just one success as our “biggest,” it would be the launch of our “Verified by TAG” program, which establishes a two-factor authentication system to vet legitimate companies and prevent money from flowing to criminal enterprises. We are literally reengineering the infrastructure for the entire industry when it comes to transparency, and I couldn’t be more excited about our progress to date.
Did anything surprise you over the past year?
I think some people in our industry would be surprised at the sophistication of the criminals whom we’re fighting, but we were prepared for that, having worked on piracy and data security issues for the past decade. Instead, my biggest surprise has been a very pleasant one, as I didn’t necessarily expect the ad agencies and others from the “buy side” of our industry to rally behind our efforts with such unbridled enthusiasm.
What are the most significant threats to digital advertising that you see on the horizon for 2016?
In some ways, 2016 will be much like last year, when the issues of ad blocking, fraud, and new European privacy regulations presented the greatest challenges to our industry. The industry has galvanized its efforts to address the first two, but the EU presents a much more difficult – and potentially intractable – challenge. One emerging issue is around technical standardization. Our little industry has blown past the $50 billion mark in the U.S., and international markets are beginning to converge from an operational standpoint for many multinational companies, so there is a dire need to create interoperable advertising specifications if we’re going to achieve the efficiencies that marketers need. This is a project that the IAB Tech Lab has undertaken and is of primary importance.
What’s next for TAG in terms of programs and initiatives?
This year will see several major milestones for TAG, including the much-anticipated launch of our Anti-Fraud Seal. Compliant sellers of digital advertising will be able to append this seal to their inventory to demonstrate that they adhere to the highest standards in the industry. We are also excited that TAG is forming a formal partnership with federal law enforcement agencies to share actionable intelligence about criminal activity, so investigators in the U.S. and globally can track down the criminal networks that are undermining trust in our industry and harming American consumers. In addition, look for the TAG programs to expand to foreign markets during the second half of the year, as there is a growing interest in exporting our solutions to the largest digital economies around the World.
What’s the most interesting thing in your office?
I have a Stormtrooper mask sitting on my shelf right now. It is a holdover from Halloween from my 8-year-old daughter’s costume. As the father of two girls, I thought it was the coolest thing that she has embraced the original Star Wars series, which held great influence over my childhood experience. Of course, it’s propped up by a stack of Barbie movies, so I still have my work cut out for me.