Online advertising industry works to build trust among consumers

In increasing digital age, more transparency will benefit ad-tech companies and internet users

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On March 30, I walked across First Avenue in New York City toward the Unit­ed Nations head­quar­ters. For what­ev­er rea­son, none of the 192 flags nor­mal­ly raised out front were fly­ing. The white and turquoise mar­ble build­ing on the banks of the East Riv­er was impres­sive, nonetheless.

I was there to attend the inau­gur­al meet­ing of the Adver­tis­ing Trans­paren­cy & Trust Forum, a cross-indus­try col­lab­o­ra­tion formed under the aus­pices of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia Whar­ton School. The forum was con­vened in reac­tion to tumult with­in the adver­tis­ing ecosys­tem: fake news, ad viewa­bil­i­ty fraud, alleged kick­backs to ad agen­cies, malver­tis­ing and the ever-present rise in ad block­ing among con­sumers. The out­come of the forum, though ten­ta­tive, was encouraging—for both the online adver­tis­ing indus­try and for consumers.

Relat­ed video: How com­pa­nies can prof­it by return­ing pri­va­cy con­trol to consumers

I was invit­ed to the forum because I work for eyeo, a com­pa­ny that works to empow­er inter­net users while keep­ing the web fair and prof­itable. We’re best known for Adblock Plus. I attend­ed to lend our user per­spec­tive. Oth­er atten­dees includ­ed Proc­ter & Gam­ble and oth­er adver­tis­ers, Empow­er Media­Mar­ket­ing and oth­er agen­cies, the Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion of Adver­tis­ing Agen­cies, the Asso­ci­a­tion of Nation­al Adver­tis­ers, the ADver­tis­ing Research Foun­da­tion, and a cou­ple dozen oth­er orga­ni­za­tions rang­ing from pub­lish­ers to brands to adver­tis­ing agen­cies to academics.

As the title implies, these par­tic­i­pants came because they want­ed to improve trust and trans­paren­cy around the ways that ad ecosys­tem par­tic­i­pants inter­act. We dis­cussed how the indus­try could cre­ate more trust among itself and use that to improve the ad ecosys­tem for con­sumers. Some­where in that ecosys­tem are the ad block­ers, which give users the ulti­mate pow­er to shut down ads they find dis­re­spect­ful or obnoxious.

Speak­ers at the forum included:

Andrew Sus­man, co-chair of the Trans­paren­cy & Trust Forum, and vice pres­i­dent of Empow­er Media­Mar­ket­ing – New York.

Michael Don­ahue, co-chair of the Trans­paren­cy & Trust Forum, and emi­nence grise of the AAAA and ANA.

David Kasper­son of the Speed of Trust Prac­tice of the Franklin Cov­ey Co. served as meet­ing facil­i­ta­tor and spoke about build­ing trust. Kasper­son taught us how to trust wise­ly, i.e. be trust­ing but not gullible, and then to extend that trust to co-work­ers and among our busi­ness contacts.

Wal­ly Sny­der, pres­i­dent emer­i­tus of the Amer­i­can Adver­tis­ing Fed­er­a­tion and exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Insti­tute for Adver­tis­ing Ethics, laid out nine prin­ci­ples and prac­tices for adver­tis­ing ethics. These includ­ed treat­ing con­sumers fair­ly, clear­ly sep­a­rat­ing ads and PR from news, ful­ly dis­clos­ing all mate­r­i­al con­di­tions and build­ing interindus­try trust through transparency.

Yoram (Jer­ry) Wind, Laud­er pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing and aca­d­e­m­ic direc­tor of the Whar­ton Fel­lows pro­gram, and cre­ator of the Whar­ton Future of Adver­tis­ing pro­gram, high­light­ed the lost trust between con­sumers and ads, and offer­ing eight sug­ges­tions to regain it. These includ­ed: harshen­ing penal­ties for bad actors; meet­ing com­mit­ments to share­hold­ers, cus­tomers and soci­ety at large; and, I have to say it, pro­mot­ing ad block­ers by block­ing those who would block out ad-block­ing users.

We walked away with one over­ar­ch­ing take­away: to extend trust in our work togeth­er, but espe­cial­ly in our work with users. The group will con­tin­ue to meet through­out the year to has­ten accom­plish­ment of this goal. Our first con­crete “assign­ment” is to tack­le ad fraud.

Coop­er­a­tion, trust pay off

My per­son­al take­away from the expe­ri­ence was that nobody in this ecosys­tem seems to trust one anoth­er, so it’s no won­der that con­sumers don’t trust the sys­tem. Tech­nolo­gies and method­olo­gies are designed to gen­er­ate max­i­mum dol­lars for the ad-tech com­pa­nies and extract max­i­mum behav­ior data about con­sumers (because, as I’ve learned, “data is the new oil.”). The lack of coop­er­a­tion and trust among the ad play­ers almost guar­an­tees that ads become self-serv­ing and not respect­ful of consumers.

We at eyeo have long held that the “scorched earth” approach held by many ad block­ers isn’t the answer either. Pub­lish­ers need ads to make mon­ey to pay for con­tent; alter­na­tive­ly or com­ple­men­tar­i­ly, con­sumers need to pay con­tent cre­ators direct­ly. eyeo encour­ages a sus­tain­able mid­dle ground pol­i­cy of allow­ing “accept­able ads” (as defined by an inde­pen­dent, cross-indus­try com­mit­tee) to fund well-mean­ing web­sites, while also offer­ing a microdona­tions solu­tion called Flat­tr that encour­ages qual­i­ty content.

There is light at the end of the tun­nel: The fact that this forum was con­vened at all is proof pos­i­tive that the ad ecosys­tem is will­ing to lis­ten to con­sumers and improve.

The next meet­ing is sched­uled for May 31. It is my sin­cere hope that in the com­ing months the Adver­tis­ing Trans­paren­cy & Trust Forum meet­ings will pro­duce some very sig­nif­i­cant action items that will leave no oth­er choice than a unit­ed and, yes, trust­ing front of indus­try lead­ers … who all remem­ber that we’re there for the con­sumer first.

More sto­ries relat­ed to pri­va­cy and con­sumer trust:
Pri­va­cy con­cerns influ­ence con­sumers’ deci­sions more often
Cavoukian Q&A: ‘Pri­va­cy by design’ restores con­trol to consumers
Rise in malver­tis­ing requires new defen­sive game plan