Since the first online banner ad appeared on screens in 1994, digital advertising and the content it supports has transformed how we live. Back then there were only a handful of companies investing in online advertising. Today our world-leading UK industry is worth £23.5 billion to the economy, ensuring people can access a vast array of online services and information for free and supporting the growth of businesses both large and small.
In short, digital advertising has come a long way in the past 23 years and the world is a richer place for it. That’s not to disregard the challenges we’re navigating but, on balance, no one can deny that the technological innovation, means of instant communication, and democratisation of information that the ad-funded internet has given us is anything short of a revolution.
We’re now at a critical moment - not only for the future of digital advertising but for the open, free web it supports. The Online Advertising Programme is reviewing the entire regulatory framework for paid-for digital advertising in the UK. This is a much-needed step in the evolution of digital advertising and it could help to create a stronger, safer online ecosystem.
However, in order to do this and positively build on the progress of the past decades, the Government needs to work with and listen to the digital advertising industry. It needs to take an evidence-led approach to the issues that need addressing. And it needs to ensure that the outcome of this process results in joined up actions that are not duplicated through other policy or legislative vehicles like the Online Safety Bill.
Above all, the Online Advertising Programme will only be a success if policymakers can recognise what is working within the digital advertising industry, as well as what isn’t. Progress means taking a nuanced and targeted approach to change, prioritising what can effectively be solved via increased intervention, and protecting the industry-led systems of regulation and standards that are already performing valuable roles.
Getting this balance right matters because the impact that the OAP stands to have goes far beyond the digital advertising industry. If ineffectual or unnecessary regulation is enforced within digital advertising, it will have a vast effect on the stability of the businesses that rely on digital channels - particularly the small companies that are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic. Most importantly, it could risk the viability of the free-to-use, ad funded web - limiting the ability of each and every one of us to access information and services online for free. This is fundamental to our democracy today and shouldn’t hang in the balance.
It’s for these reasons that we at IAB UK - the industry body for digital advertising - are calling on ministers to engage with us and our members from across the digital advertising industry during this post-consultation period. By working with us, the Government can ensure that any changes to the current regulation of digital advertising add meaningful value, can be effectively implemented and prioritise the areas most in need of attention. The OAP is an unparalleled opportunity to shape the future of digital for the better and its outcome will determine what the internet looks like for years to come. It’s in all of our interests to get that right.