Is Australia falling behind in media industry accountability?


From AMAA CEO Josanne Ryan

Our industry is constantly engaged in discussions about accountability, transparency and metrics that can be trusted in ad trading. There has also been the odd report about the audit body, the AMAA, its current industry role and dare I say, its potential demise as the print channel declines.

It made me realise that our industry is at risk of looking at this from a very insular viewpoint, with a skewed perspective. And maybe missing the point.

Before we start, though a little background. The AMAA is an independent, not-for-profit industry body, founded by the needs of advertisers to ensure data for ad inventory was validated, accurate and non-fraudulent.

Our mandate is to deliver third-party verified figures according to agreed industry standards. The print circulation metric is the one we are best known for, it’s basically the print ad measure for ‘opportunity to see’.

Audit, compliance or their big brother, governance, are not the sexiest of topics, but increasingly they are recognised as a crucial aspect of the ad trading markets around the world.

Overseas experience shows that industry-agreed governance frameworks, incorporating leading adtech solutions, are working to address the issues that are affecting the ad industry:

  • growing digital ad fraud
  • ad spends leaking into internet piracy
  • brand safety
  • viewability  

So what are they doing that we aren’t?

Firstly in the UK, there is the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS) which enables the industry bodies to collaborate to develop standards and accompanying compliance frameworks.

The ABC UK (the AMAA equivalent in that market) facilitates, and is the endorsed governance and verification provider, for JICWEBS.

The UK Brand Safety initiative has around 30 agency trading desks and ad exchanges certified as meeting the agreed Good Practice Principles. They also recently released the same approach to certify for Ad Fraud, again with a compliance component performed by the ABC UK. 

In the USA, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the 4A’s and the IAB have joined forces to establish the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG).

Effectively, this is an industry governance initiative to address ad fraud, malware, internet piracy and transparency.

The Alliance for Audited Media (the AMAA equivalent in that market) works with TAG providing verification services and is establishing independent services to verify the quality of digital traffic.

We have the same issues as these markets. But, we are at risk of falling behind in implementing compliance frameworks around adoption of industry codes and best practice

A recent study by Integral Ad Science showed that Australia is lagging behind across a range of areas, with a higher risk of brands appearing on adult or violent sites and digital ad fraud levels are also higher than the UK, but a little less than the US.

Of course marketers and agencies are addressing these issues. Media agencies invest in sophisticated tech stacks to monitor client campaigns and we have industry standards through the IAB and other industry bodies.

Plus it seems our industry also values oversight to keep things in check. Our 2016 report* showed the vast majority (76%) of agencies and marketers acknowledge that to have a robust, ethical industry we need industry-endorsed standards and, importantly, referees to ensure everyone plays by the same rules.

So the reality is, there is more we can do.

At the recent AANA RESET conference, Lindsay Pattison, CEO of Maxus Worldwide spoke about how accountability matters and stated that we “can’t mark our own homework”. But isn’t that what we are in danger of doing in this market?

We are seeing the issues arise – including metrics that can’t be trusted, lack of transparency, ads that have a low opportunity to ever be seen, let alone seen by humans. They are important issues that will not go away.

The AMAA has facilitated industry led governance solutions for decades and we know there is a further role for audit bodies in helping address issues in digital trading. We are seeing our affiliated overseas bodies do just this. Likewise, we are ready to work on behalf of the industry in these areas.

We’re currently exploring how overseas models can be applied locally in Australia, and welcome your ideas and input to ensure the advertising media industry remains trusted and even more important, as effective as it can be for clients. 

Date: 16 Nov 2016

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