TrustDigital media has opened up exciting new worlds for the advertising industry. It has given advertisers the ability to reach audiences in new places, on new devices, in more engaging ways, and in more targeted fashion than ever before. No doubt about it: these are all good things.

But the advent of digital media has also given the industry a whole new set of concerns about trust. This is a topic I’ve been talking about a lot lately, and for good reason. The advertising industry simply isn’t viable without trust. To begin with, consumers must be able to trust the content of advertisements they read, see, and hear. This is the “trust” issue that advertising lawyers like myself have traditionally spent much of our time on.

But digital media—and the potential to manipulate it—has given rise to new questions of trust that are equally if not more serious for the industry. For instance, how can advertisers trust that their digital ads are being delivered to real humans and not bots? This question is the tip of an iceberg of trust issues created by digital media. And if advertisers don’t get a satisfactory answer to it relatively quickly, the entire industry could suffer.

The Way I See It

  • The trust issues created by digital media affect different segments of the industry—including advertisers, publishers, media, and agencies—differently. On certain issues, however, it makes the most sense for all parties to work together for a common solution. A prime example of this is the industry consortium “3MS” (Making Measurement Make Sense), which is working together to develop a standardized approach to media measurement across devices.
  • Advertising fraud is not the only trust issue that affects advertisers. Concerns have been raised by some about punitive advertising unauthorized rebates and other arrangements between agencies and digital media players that could be occurring without their knowledge. The lack of trusted procedures and policing mechanism sows insecurity in virtually all of their relationships.
  • You can read more about Trust in Advertising in my self-Q&A, in my post on disruption, and in my interview with Mike Zaneis, the CEO of TAG.

The Way the Industry Sees It


One of the most knowledgeable people on this topic is Bob Liodice, the president and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). I had the great pleasure of interviewing Bob at the OpenX Trust Forum during Advertising Week, and am thrilled to continue to the conversation on the blog.


What are the biggest challenges that you see in building trust in advertising on digital media?

The most important element is to know whether it is working for your business and your brands. That means having the appropriate valuation tools, metrics and measurement capabilities to know the leverage that digital advertising has within the total marketing portfolio. However, trust is a very challenging element as marketers evaluate their marketing mix. Complicating the tremendous targeting and productivity advantages of digital advertising are issues related to fraud, piracy, malware, viewability / measurement, ad blocking, and media transparency. In some cases, for every digital dollar invested by the marketer — only 30-40 cents gets through to the consumer. That is not a healthy balance to engender trust.

Is the solution to advertising fraud a technology solution, a legal solution, a law enforcement solution, or something else entirely?

The question is an excellent one — and I do think that it is “all of the above” — but not proportionately. First and foremost, it needs to start with technology solutions. The industry has created a joint venture organization called TAG — or the Trustworthy Accountability Group. It is focused on registering and certifying all of the key industry players within the digital supply chain. That approach elevates the confidence that marketers are working with “trusted players.” But while this is necessary, is it sufficient? We don’t know but one could suspect that it might not be. Fraud is a $ 7 billion+ issue that lines the pockets of a lot of bad actors. To squeeze this disease out of the global marketplace may require substantial investments in cyber security protocols — something the industry is currently not doing. With respect to legal and law enforcement, those challenges are difficult because the root of the problem is coming from overseas players. Next, we would have to have  a highly coordinated international game plan for getting the legal community to participate and be successful.

Are the trust issues that the industry is experiencing now any different from growing pains that we experienced in the early days of other mediums such as television, radio, and print advertising?

They are very different from earlier eras. The trust issue comes from “opaqueness” exacerbated by technology. It is harder to see where the issues are which complicates the ability to generate solutions that will work across the ecosystem.

Do you see any erosion of consumer trust in advertising on digital media occurring now?

Ad blocking is totally predicated on the rejection of advertising by consumers. Its grounding is from a poor user experience. Consumers are willing to share their environment with advertisers. But as an industry, we have crossed the line. That “line crossing” infuriates consumers who no longer trust that advertisers can be fair and balanced. As such, 200 million users worldwide have downloaded very effective ad blockers.

Is it difficult for advertisers, media, publishers, and agencies to find common ground on issues of trust relating to digital media?

This is a question that we could discuss for years. The short answer is that “it depends.” Media transparency issues represent a major chasm between advertisers and agencies. There is a deep and fundamental disagreement that the problem really exists. ANA has contracted security firm K2 to objectively and independently identify the “truth.” Even with those findings, it is impossible to know whether clients and agencies can bridge the difference. Marketers question the need for the digital supply chain to look like the LumaScapes. The volume of ad tech players “appears” to be excessive. In the age of technology, does it really require such a complex supply chain to deliver an ad from marketer to consumer? Marketers don’t believe so. I seriously doubt the ad tech community agrees. Nonetheless, the “three legs” have come together to try and bring resolution. We jointly created 3MS (Making Measurement Make Sense) to address viewability and measurement concerns. We jointly created TAG to address fraud, piracy and malware concerns. We jointly created the Digital Advertising Alliance to confront privacy and targeted advertising concerns that exist in the public domain. In short, we have accomplished a substantial amount – way more than I think the average person is even aware of.

What is the most interesting thing in your office?

Hopefully it is me. I’m sure my wife and my colleagues would violently disagree 🙂