Big brands call for reform of digital ad market or threaten to pull spend

Brands including P&G, Unilever and Mastercard are calling for the industry to come together and agree to eight principles that they believe will help clean up the digital ad ecosystem.

The world’s top advertisers are calling for the industry to come together to reform the digital ad ecosystem to make it safer, more transparent and more consumer friendly, and are threatening to stop working with any company that doesn’t comply.

The new Global Media Charter, published by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), sets out eight clear principles designed to improve the digital marketing ecosystem. Building on concerns highlighted by brands including Procter & Gamble and Unilever, it aims to confront issues in transparency, brand safety, ad fraud and viewability by creating a framework that agencies, ad tech firms and publishers should comply with if they want to secure ad revenue in the future.

Advertisers including P&G, Mastercard, Diageo and Unilever have worked on the framework, alongside advertiser associations in markets including the US, China, Japan, Germany and France. The move comes as consumer trust in ads has fallen to an all-time low and ad blocking use continues to grow. The WFA believes the only way to rebuild trust is to reform certain practices, particularly around the responsible use of data.

“The digital ecosystem has grown so rapidly, it’s no wonder that it’s far from perfect. But the time for indulgence is over. The largest chunk of the world’s marketing budgets is now invested in digital platforms and advertisers have a right to demand that the money they invest can be clearly tracked and understood,” says Stephan Loerke, the WFA’s CEO.

“It’s not just about knowing that budgets have been well spent. We also need to be reassured that brand and consumer interests are protected in these new platforms.”

The eight principles include:

1. Zero tolerance to ad fraud.
2. Strict brand safety protection.
3. Minimum viewability thresholds.
4. Transparency throughout the supply chain.
5. Third-party verification and measurement as a minimum requirement.
6. Removal of ‘walled garden’ issues.
7. Improving standards with data transparency.
8. Taking steps to improve the consumer experience to make ads less intrusive and disruptive.

The call for reform follows growing concerns over the challenges facing the digital ad ecosystem, many of which are yet to be solved despite mounting pushback from marketers. And while brands have to play their part, they need other players in the ecosystem to come on board too and for the industry to work together.

Ben Jankowski, senior vice-president of media at Mastercard, says: “As the market continues to change quickly, global brands are being more tangible and specific about what we expect from the entire ecosystem; our tech partners, agency partners media owners and digital platforms. The WFA’s charter is designed to ensure that everyone has the same common understanding of what we all need to do to thrive. Everyone should join us on this journey.”

Brands say they are “drawing a line in the sand”, laying out their demands and threatening to stop working with agencies, ad tech players or publishers that don’t adhere. This is not just an idle threat; P&G cut its digital ad budget by $200m last year.

READ MORE: Will other brands follow P&G’s lead and cut digital ad spend?

Yet getting the industry to work together has so far proved difficult, with different points of view across the ecosystem.

RBS CMO, David Wheldon, concludes: “It’s high time the industry as a whole drew a line in the sand and said enough is enough; things need to change and fast. The WFA charter is critical in that it lists what brands need from their online partners so that the system can be sustainable. Put simply, it’s the only future for the online advertising ecosystem.”

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