Online advertising industry works to build trust among consumers
In increasing digital age, more transparency will benefit ad-tech companies and internet users
By Ben Williams, Special to ThirdCertainty
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.
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