Jon Mew on the value of ad tech at Westminster Media Forum

Posted on: Wednesday 27 January 2021 | Jon Mew - CEO, IAB UK

Read the speech our CEO Jon Mew delivered at a Westminster Media Forum event on ad tech, industry collaboration and the value of an open web 

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The following speech was delivered at Westminster Media Forum’s event: ‘Ad tech in the UK - data use, tackling harm, and latest regulatory and market developments’ on 26 January 2021

We’re here today to talk about ad tech, data use and tackling harm – but before I start, I would like to take a minute to step back from focusing on specific challenges faced by the digital advertising industry to take a look at the broader picture.  

The subjects that we’re discussing today are hugely important, and it’s only by placing them into a wider context that we can truly understand how imperative it is that we can create workable, informed solutions that prioritise people and support their continued access to the open web.  

I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that digital advertising – and ad tech in particular – face pretty vocal criticism. There are, as you know, challenges that we need to navigate, that I will say more about later. But I also think we need to appreciate that people – all of us included, I’m sure – rely on the information and services that our ad-funded internet delivers. In fact, in research conducted by the IAB, 89% of people said that they prefer to have free access to the internet with the presence of ads, vs the alternative: having to pay for online content. 

I would say that, wouldn’t I? But, without trying to minimise the issues that the digital ecosystem is navigating, it is often easy to forget what a brilliant resource the open internet is and the huge benefits of our world-leading digital ad industry - which is built on advertising technology.  

From an individual's perspective, we can listen, read, watch, tell, learn and share in more innovative and immersive ways than ever before. All of us – whoever and wherever we are. That is a true digital democracy and it’s possible because of our robust digital advertising economy. 

From an industry perspective, digital advertising is a market worth over £15 billion to the UK economy - and contributes up to six times more to GDP – and has, over the past two decades, played a significant part in fuelling the growth of British SMEs, entrepreneurs and creative innovation.  

Is this an unashamedly positive view of digital advertising? Yes, admittedly, it is. But I am starting with this because I truly believe that we need to take a balanced and rounded approach when it comes to discussing the regulation and ‘harms’ that today's event is focused on. Acknowledging the benefits of digital advertising is an integral part of that – they are the reason it’s so important to get this right.  

However, we all know that issues do exist and, in my view, collaboration is key to addressing them. For instance, we need to improve trust in and transparency within the digital supply chain. We need to ensure that companies engaged in real-time bidding understand their obligations in practice when it comes to processing users’ data. We need to continue to improve the quality of the digital advertising experience for people, as well as giving them confidence that their data is being responsibly handled. And we need to ensure that the alternative User ID solutions currently under development to reshape the ad-funded web have the user at its heart.  

These are no small tasks – digital advertising is complex and constantly evolving. At the IAB, we are working with our members and industry partners to ultimately build a sustainable future for the industry and we’re in no doubt that if we don’t continue to improve and evolve, that future is uncertain - an outcome that’s not good for anybody. In short, we are very aware of the issues that exist and work is proactively taking place to drive change from within. 

Take the IAB’s Gold Standard, which brings together existing industry initiatives to reduce ad fraud, uphold brand safety, improve the online experience for users and aid compliance with GDPR and ePrivacy law. The success of the Standard is reliant on the industry’s willingness to get behind it and we have seen really strong uptake, which continues to grow – today you’re hearing from a number of our certified members including Facebook, Google, Verizon Media and The Guardian.  

Alongside industry support, it’s crucial that the Gold Standard stays relevant and fit for purpose. We launched version 2.0 last year with new and more stringent criteria and we will continue to evolve it to keep pace with challenges that arise. We will also continue to encourage advertisers to prioritise the companies that are doing the right thing when they’re looking at where to invest their budgets. As it stands, we have 14 advertisers that have actively committed to working with Gold Standard digital ad suppliers wherever possible, including Unilever, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Tesco and Vodafone. This is pivotal as where advertisers choose to invest budgets is a huge factor in driving lasting change. 

Meanwhile, all parts of the digital industry are continuing to work together at a global level to create viable User ID solutions to replace third-party cookies. This is a huge opportunity for us to redraw the digital ad ecosystem around user experience and build a better web for all parties - consumers, advertisers and publishers.  

You can probably see a theme emerging here. From our ongoing work with our members to address the ICO’s RTB concerns to the Cross Industry Programmatic Taskforce that seeks to improve supply chain transparency – collaboration within the digital ad industry to bring about real and meaningful change is not in short supply. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for more progress, but it does mean that we are moving forward and will continue to do so.  

This extends to you too. I believe that the best solutions to current and future issues within digital advertising come about by working with our industry. This is true whether you’re thinking about how to improve standards from within, or the role that statutory regulation has.  Let’s work together to continue to embrace the opportunities for change, and let’s remember why we’re doing this: to build the strong, ad-funded internet that is in all of our best interests. 

Written by

Jon Mew

CEO, IAB UK

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