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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

What will it take to wake digital advertising’s sleeping giants?

June 29, 2017 | By Jason Kint, CEO—DCN @jason_kint

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

Digital media veterans may find solace in this passage from Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises.

“Gradually” could best describe the glacial change to the mobile web we witnessed from 2000 through 2007. But then Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and “suddenly” we couldn’t move fast enough to keep up with consumers.

In every case of digital transformation, there have been “Sleeping Giants” offering premature and often prescient hints that turn into rapid change seemingly overnight. This acceleration is normally brought on by a significant tipping point whether it be a disruptive technology, competitive move, or a provocative press headline.

In digital advertising, Marc Pritchard’s January speech demanding independent accountability didn’t really cover new ground. His points were issues that the industry had discussed many times over the previous years. But it certainly mattered when Pritchard said it (and the press covered it). At that moment, in that room, in his voice, to that audience, to the IAB he said: “The days of giving digital a pass are over.” He urged the rest of the ad industry to follow P&G’s lead. “It’s time to grow up. It’s time for action.”

By virtue of the ad dollars he controls, Pritchard is a giant in the industry. While the issues he called out are far from new—particularly to a savvy industry vet like him—the very fact that he so directly addressed them shook the industry.

However, despite his call to arms, alarm bells continue to sound. Just this past Monday, Digiday reported that up to 80% of Facebook’s video advertisements weren’t viewable. We first heard this more than a year ago. Facebook tried to fend off the whispers for as long as it could —going so far as to state last year, “we have our own measurement and how we measure.” Yet these whispers have risen to a general outcry. And independent measurement coupled with industry press will carry the message far and wide.

Many have called out issues of brand safety over the years, including the more recent renegade Sleeping Giants Twitter account. However, the March headlines out of the UK that reported on extremist content on YouTube changed things overnight. Major advertisers pulled their campaigns. UK and French governments surfaced regulation discussion. Chase Bank began individually whitelisting the sites where its ads could appear. Premium publishers have long highlighted the brand halo that respected content confers on the ads that surround it. But this chorus of major advertisers decrying the effect of negative contexts triggered a precipitous escalation of the issue.

DCN has led the “Duopoly” discussion since 2016 regarding the lopsided competitive environment with Facebook and Google. But it was Margrethe Vestager’s $2.7 Billion decision out of the EU that will drive Google to change its business behavior going forward. (Side note: Read this and be highly skeptical of the motivations of anyone who argues this decision is EU “protectionism.”)

But there is a much larger sleeping giant about to rise and roar.

DCN and its counterpart organization for the marketers, ANA, have been systematically documenting the issues of building a quality advertising supply chain over the past three years. We started with the shift to viewable impressions. Both organizations have intensely studied invalid traffic and bot fraud across the web. The ANA also recently studied financial transparency and the economics of the ad tech tax. And comScore studied the value of environment and, in turn, brand safety.

But documenting the problem does not go nearly far enough. So DCN’s board bravely accepted ANA’s challenge and, in Sept 2016 began to build out a premium digital marketplace called TrustX.

We set out to answer to these demands:

  • 100% premium publisher inventory in an open RTB private marketplace. Check.
  • 100% human and viewable ad supply, or advertisers don’t pay. Check.
  • 100% priority on brand safety and campaign efficacy. Check.
  • 100% trading transparency down to the publisher URL. Check.
  • 100% financial transparency from bid to delivery, reporting and billing. Check.

If you do the math, digital advertisers are wasting away more than $10 million per day on overpaying for a murky digital advertising supply chain. I can’t imagine this sort of waste is escaping a CFO or CEO these days. And let’s not forget the ripple effect caused by their dollars and brands being associated with criminal ad fraud or extremist material on predominantly user-generated content experiences like Facebook and YouTube. It is clear that the market demands a solution to these problems—one with scale, simplicity, efficiency, and accountability.

On behalf of the premium publishers, we have stepped up and built it: TrustX. I’ve been informed by the TrustX management team that nearly every major agency and brand is leaning into TrustX as exactly what our market needs.

So, the only remaining question is who are the Sleeping Giants that will ensure that digital advertising grows up – not gradually but now, suddenly ?  Which advertisers and partner agencies will take a stand at scale making the true economic commitments necessary to drive the transparency and accountability priorities that TrustX represents and the industry needs?

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