It’s at this time of year that we usually find ourselves scrolling through a flurry of annual predictions, absorbing what the next 12 months will hold for advertisers, agencies and publishers. We size up changing consumer habits, track trends and look to the newest tech, deeming this to be the year of AI or smart speakers or, perhaps, gaming.
All solid contenders, yet this year nothing is the same. This year we talk of recovery and recalibration – resyncing to a fundamentally altered world where people’s lives are in flux and 2021 promises further uncertainty. Our past propensity to confidently distil it all down to ‘the year of…’ no longer quite works, at least for now.
So I have a different sort of prediction, one that’s not defined by a particular platform, sector or technology. I believe that 2021 will be the year that advertisers collectively come together to accelerate change in digital advertising. Granted, it doesn’t trip off the tongue quite like ‘The year of mobile’, but building on current work in this area – such as IAB UK’s Gold Standard – is fundamental for brands, consumers, publishers and the ad-funded internet we all rely on.
To put it simply, 2020 has shown us how much we need digital channels to stay informed, in touch and entertained (not to mention the ecommerce explosion). Yet the future of the open web rests on our collective ability to build a responsible and sustainable future for digital advertising. It’s a task that is in everyone’s best interests – the publishers that rely on digital ads to fund their content, the brands that invested £15.7bn in digital advertising in 2019, and the people (all of us included) who rely on digital channels across our daily lives.
Shaping the digital ecosystem
This is where the IAB UK Gold Standard comes in. Launched in 2017, the Gold Standard pulls together existing industry initiatives to tackle ad fraud, uphold brand safety and improve the digital advertising experience for users. It’s a process that is independently audited and has recently evolved to encompass compliance with GDPR and ePrivacy laws. Certification is available to publishers and media owners, those who buy online advertising space on behalf of brands and all intermediaries in the sector.
Uptake of the Gold Standard is strong and continues to gather momentum, with certified companies seeing growth at more than twice the rate of non-certified companies, according to IAB UK’s latest full-year ‘Digital Adspend’ report. As an industry, we’ve made great progress in the past few years, but there is still more to do and advertisers have a hugely important role to play as we take the Gold Standard to the next level.
We launched our network of Gold Standard advertiser supporters this time last year with two brands signed up – Tesco and McDonald’s. Today, this number has multiplied to 14, with brands from Unilever to Coca-Cola and Adidas to Asda pledging to only work with certified digital ad suppliers wherever possible, as well as to educate their partners and internal teams about the benefits of the initiative. By formalising their support for the Gold Standard and prioritising certified companies, these brands are helping to make the ecosystem a better place for their ads to be and building a more sustainable, effective and user-orientated ecosystem.
Ultimately, where advertisers choose to invest budgets is the single biggest factor that will help to define the shape of the digital ad industry going forward. As we head into a new year, and at a time when people are relying on online resources more than ever before, advertisers have a golden opportunity to drive further digital change.
Sophia Haynes is director of campaigns at IAB UK