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Trustworthy Accountability Group

The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) has accomplished an incredible amount during its first year, including rolling out a TAG Registry, an Anti-Piracy Initiative, Certified Against Fraud, Certified Against Malware,  and updated Inventory Quality Guidelines. Now the work begins: to round up more participants. The early adopters are already on board: 127 companies are already TAG-Registered. To be registered, companies must complete a self-assessment and attest to having certain processes and procedures in place and a plan to keep them in place for the coming year. TAG Registered companies have been verified as legitimate participants in the digital advertising industry through a proprietary background check and review process powered by Dun & Bradstreet and approved by TAG. Once registered, companies are awarded a TAG-ID, a unique global identifier that they can share with partners and add  to their ads or the ad inventory they sell.

130 people, myself included, have completed Compliance Officer Training, and have been designated Compliance Officers for their companies.

I first became involved with the Trustworthy Accountability Group last January, when it held a meeting at the IAB Annual Leadership Conference. Because I’ve represented ZEDO for five years on several industry initiatives that fit our “high-road” approach to partnership with both advertisers and sellers, I attended the meeting and listened to the plans. I had no idea how fast they would move.

By the end of the year, TAG had released a suite of anti-Malware tools, including “Best Practices for Scanning Creative for Malware,” a glossary of terms that establishes a reference of malvertising types, and a Malware Threat Sharing Hub, where certified companies can join a trustworthy collaborative network that qualifies and tracks malicious ads.

The Certified Against Fraud program, which was the last to roll out,  is open to participation by buyers, direct sellers and intermediaries across the digital advertising ecosystem.  Requirements to achieve the TAG “Certified Against Fraud” Seal differ according to a company’s role in the supply chain.  These requirements are outlined in details in the Certified Against Fraud Guidelines.

Companies that are shown to abide by the Certified Against Fraud Guidelines receive the “Certified Against Fraud” Seal and can use the seal to publicly communicate their commitment to combatting fraudulent non-human traffic in the digital advertising supply chain.

When the group sent out its press release earlier this year on the first hundred companies to get registered, it reiterated its pledge to create industry transformation at scale. It was formed in response to multiple accusations by news sources and participants of lack of transparency. With TAG, the industry hopes to prove that it can regulate itself.

Germany’s BVDW Advocates for Transparency

In Europe, Germany is known as the country with the strictest privacy concerns. So it is no surprise that a Dusseldorf-based industry association has come up with a code of conduct for marketers, publishers, DSPs, SSPs, and data providers  that will bring some transparency to the programmatic market..

The Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft (BVDW) eV is a leading German advocacy group for companies  with digital business models, or who are part of the digital value chain. Anchored by member companies from various segments of the Internet industry,  it can provide a holistic view of the German digital economy and act as a spokesperson for the market. It’s a source of important information, facts and data for both those in the industry and those wishing to learn about it.

BVDW is committed to making the efficiency and benefits of digital services – content, services and technologies – transparent and thus promoting their use in the overall economy, society and administration.  Using the pillars of market development, market intelligence and market regulation, BVDW bundles leading digital know-how  to help shape a positive development of  what is now considered a leading growth sector in the German economy. However, as a central body of the digital economy, the organization also provides standards and binding guidelines for industry players for market transparency.

Over forty companies, including Adform, Appnexus, DataXu, Mediamath and Teads have signed the new agreement. Companies that are not members of the organization  can also sign, and signing companies are required to adhere to the code of conduct.

Companies that call themselves full stack providers will also be required to adhere to the standards, which stress transparency, safety and quality.

The aim of BVDW’s standards effort is to make programmatic more efficient and useful to German marketers and publishers by creating a controlled system. Germany is probably hoping to avoid the problems that surfaced  in the US, which deployed programmatic advertising without sufficient transparency, and caused many marketers problems, such as discovering their brands displayed in non brand-safe environments. Other issues like scanty metrics for determining ROI caused online advertising prices for programmatic to remain low years after they should have risen consistent with the number of consumers moving online.

We suspect that the focus group that created the code of conduct will have to continue studying the more complicated issues involved in programmatic, such as header bidding and programmatic TV:

The code of conduct is a first step to provide new impetus for the development of programmatic in Germany, says Julian Simons, deputy chairman of the BVDW’s focus group on programmatic advertising: “In a highly dynamic area such as programmatic, we cannot just establish rules within the market and then sit back. This continues to be a process of development, which will take current developments into account.”

One large looming problem is the absence of both Facebook and Google, said to control 75% of global ad spend, as signatories to the compact.

 

Digital Advertising Issues Still Plague Large Brands

The extent to which big advertisers have become dissatisfied with both their ROI and their agency relationships can be easily discerned by observing the formation of several cross-industry task forces to solve what have become pressing problems for them.

The first, a cross-industry task force set up by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As)  and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) seeks to address issues of transparency in the relationship between agencies and their clients. Agency trading desks have been marking up CPMs, and the people who are paying, the advertisers, do not have transparency into when or how much this is going on. Apparently, lack of transparency is now resulting in large enough operational losses to draw attention, although no one’s sure what the solution is just yet:

In a recent Digiday article the problem is explained this way:

Here’s how it breaks down: Traditionally, digital advertising platforms make money by marking media up somewhere between 40 percent and 60 percent. So, let’s say you bid a $3.50 CPM. As little as $1.18 of that could be going toward the actual media, but how would you know? It’s typical for the markup to be added by the exchanges, networks, and DSPs in the ad-buying chain. What’s more, when a high margin is carved out of a bid price, it limits the amount of inventory available for bidding. And if less money is being spent on actual media, the amount of available inventory shrinks, and that could be costing marketers valuable customers.

Meanwhile, marketing budgets take a hit — and it gets worse. Since black-box solutions use proprietary algorithms that providers can’t explain, you don’t know which metrics are being tracked. Who’s viewing your ads? Where are they being served? And, most importantly, why?

Unfortunately the article itself is a piece of sponsored content and advocates for a “partner” who understands media buying. But the core point is still the same: lack of transparency is hurting the entire industry.

ANA has also formed another cross-industry pact with the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM), this time  to  enlist AAM’s resources to confront today’s key digital advertising issues to ensure they operate in a more transparent and brand safe environment. This pact was announced by VP of Integrated Marketing Solutions for Bayer Consumer Care Christina Meringolo, who is also on the ANA board.

“Unfortunately, today’s online ad environment leaves many marketers suspicious and mistrustful, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” Meringolo said. “All sides of the industry have to do more – communicate more, be more transparent, be more informed and demand more of our vendors and partners.”

AAM works closely with groups like the Media Rating Council, Trustworthy Accountability Group, Interactive Advertising Bureau and Mobile Marketing Association to contribute its expertise to evolving industry standards, ad measurement guidelines and programs that promote transparency and trust among media buyers and sellers. 

Our industry has evolved from one that is noticed by few into one that controls the deployment of large budgets, and to justify the place of digital advertising in the marketing ecosystem we have to evolve into trusted and transparent partners for the brands who pay the bills.