The online ad industry is in line for an exciting shake-up | M&M Global

The online ad industry is in line for an exciting shake-up

Jed Hallam, head of digital strategy at Mindshare UK, explains why proposals for a global digital ad code of conduct represent a potential lifeboat for the industry.

Jed Hallam Headshot

It was recently announced that The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), a global advertising trade group, has proposed plans to create a global advertising watchdog to regulate online advertising.

The topic of ad blocking and the state of the online industry is one that has been ongoing for several years and there is no doubt that change is needed to help an industry stuck in a negative cycle, which is resulting in consumer ad blocking on a large scale. Recently statistics were released showing that 419 million people blocking ads on smartphones worldwide. That’s in addition to the 198 million desktop ad blocker users.

The announcement is a potential lifeboat for the industry. It has made an effort on a smaller scale to introduce guidelines around ad content, such as the UK’s IAB and IPA, but, as online advertising isn’t limited by location, the guidelines have little effect. What is needed is a globally-applicable set of guidelines, which are defined by all relevant industry stakeholders which are then upheld and regulated by one advertising body.

However, there are some gaps in the WFA’s proposition which need to be addressed.

Firstly, at the end of every ad is a human, so the interests of consumers need to be represented in order to cater to their needs and wants. Without fair representation, there is a risk that other three key stakeholders – publishers, advertising technology and advertiser – will defer to an older industry model of broadcasting, which will ultimately be the equivalent of yelling at people in the street.

Instead, it’s important to consider the consumer’s role in this, the fourth spoke of the ad wheel.

“Putting this into place is going to require a heady balance of realism and widespread adherence”

A lot of consumers don’t understand that it’s a targeting issue. People don’t block ads (solely) because they’re invasive or high frequency, they also block them because they are annoying and contain what they deem to be irrelevant content.

The overuse of personal data and creative means that a pair of shoes that you viewed five days ago continues to follow you around the internet, appearing on the most irrelevant of sites. It’s like going to a market and the first stallholder you visit then follows you around spoiling your shopping experience. It’s a big advertising problem.

Secondly, distribution isn’t the only concern with online advertising – content also needs to be improved to ensure that it’s individualised, relevant, engaging and something that the consumer actually wants to see.

It’s worth noting that there is a huge amount of businesses that are built on high frequency retargeting, such as Criteo and Outbrain for example, and this proposition would fundamentally break their business model.

However, the ad industry is known for its adaptability. Ultimately, anything that can move the industry beyond thinking the biggest number (of impressions) is the best is a good thing, but putting this into place is going to require a heady balance of realism and widespread adherence. We are all set for some exciting times.

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