2019: A view from Jon Mew

by Jon Mew, CEO, IAB UK

The digital ad industry recently marked a significant birthday, with journalists and Twitter enthusiasts alike reflecting on the milestone. No, it wasn’t for yours truly (my next big birthday is a way off thanks and probably won’t result in a feature piece in Campaign). It was instead the banner ad that marked its 25th year, making it a quarter of a century since the first one took to our screens in 1994. Remember that? When dial-up, floppy discs and faxes were all the rage and mobile phones looked like this.

In the time since, digital advertising has grown into a vast, complex and innovative industry that powers the open web we all rely on. And it’s still growing – this year’s full year Adspend report, conducted with PwC, showed that digital ad spend reached £13.44 billion in 2018, up 15% year on year. In short, digital advertising is no longer the new kid on the block and with its rapid growth comes increased responsibility.

We have seen evidence of this in the past year. The digital industry is undeniably under more scrutiny from policy makers and regulators, with the ICO’s review of adtech and real-time bidding one of the most significant developments of 2019. While there is no single silver bullet to the issues the ICO has identified, we have been proactively working with both the regulator and our members to find a realistic and effective solution that is in all of our best interests – not least the user.  

Rallying support for the Gold Standard is another crucial part of the work we’re doing to improve the digital ad industry and ensure its growth is sustainable. Bringing together initiatives to tackle ad fraud, combat brand safety issues and improve people’s experience of digital ads, the Gold Standard has certified 95 media owners, agencies and ad tech companies and – in the past few weeks – we’ve announced its first advertiser supporters. 

Tesco and McDonald’s are the first brands to commit to only work with Gold Standard digital ad suppliers wherever possible. This is landmark step and crucial for the Gold Standard to be truly effective. With momentum growing and more advertisers getting involved – at time of writing, Coca Cola and Nationwide are the latest to throw their support behind it – we can start to affect real change.

These two areas have been key priorities for the IAB in 2019, but that’s not to say we haven’t managed to fit lots more in too – from hosting plenty of events to launching new research. Here are some of my highlights, because if you can’t do this sort of thing at Christmas, when can you eh?

Don’t be a #clickhead
You might not think that the launch of a new digital measurement toolkit would warrant much industry interest. You would be wrong. Thanks to a punchy ‘Don’t be a clickhead’ campaign, we vocally challenged advertisers on overuse of click through rates and drove record traffic to our site, raising awareness of other measurement strategies for digital ads.

Ad spend hits £13.44 billion
This year’s full year release revealed that digital ad spend was up 15% year on year in 2018, coming in at a healthy £13.44 billion and demonstrating brands’ continued confidence in the power of digital advertising. For the first time ever, ad spend on smartphones exceeded desktop spend, with digital video also emerging as a key driver of growth.  

Setting the agenda at Engage
With over 1,000 industry folk gathered at the Barbican, our 15th annual Engage was all about how people and companies are harnessing digital to challenge the status quo, break down barriers and bring about change. Presenter Tina Daheley, Campaigner Caroline Criado Perez and Manning Gottlieb’s Natalie Bell were among the headline speakers.  

The five rules of attention
Or as I like to call them, the fab five: quality, location, clutter, targeting and platform optimisation. Catchy, right? But seriously, our research conducted with Lumen and IPSOS MORI shows how each of these factors impacts the amount of attention ads generate across desktop and mobile. Required reading for all digital advertisers.

A deep dive into DTC brands
That’s direct to consumer brands, but you don’t need me to tell you that. Certainly not after the release of our ‘Born Online’ report, identifying 50 of the leading DTC brands reshaping retail. We surveyed their consumers and interviewed the founders to understand what sets these data-driven, customer-centric brands apart.  

Upfronts ups its game
There was something different about Digital Upfronts this year. It still had the big brand partners, top class speakers and exclusive advertiser updates, but this year our first Podcast Upfronts joined the festivities. With Jessie Ware, Jamie Carragher and James O’Brien among the podcasting talent taking to the stage, expect to see more of this next year.

No holding back at Nonference
A cash-grabber, whack-a-mole, silent disco, ABBA themed waffle cart, life-sized Cookie Monster and five wheels of fortune… at first glance you could have been forgiven for confusing Nonference with a media-heavy fairground, but there were facts behind the fun, with lots of hands-on learning and upskilling aplenty.  

Creating an industry for all
From flexible working to age diversity, we launched our ‘how to’ one-pagers to help businesses build a more inclusive and diverse workplace. Meanwhile, our new ‘Get into Digital’ initiative pulls together expert advice and resources, with the aim of demystifying digital for new starters.  

There we have it – 2019 in a nutshell. If you want an even smaller nutshell, take a look at our 2019 infographic here.

So, what can you expect from us in 2020? We’ll be bringing the industry together at more events (starting as we mean to go on with our first Digital Trust Forum in January), launching a number of big research projects and maintaining our ongoing focus on collectively raising industry standards. But before we get stuck into a new decade, time to overdo the Quality Street and get Bublé on the Sonos. Merry Christmas from all of us at the IAB!

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