IAB: 'We Messed Up'

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Marketers must reign in and improve ad content on the web or risk losing their audience, warns the IAB's tech chief.

IAB's Scott Cunningham
IAB's Scott Cunningham

Ad tech that turned the Internet into a targeted and scalable playground for marketers is slowly shrinking the World Wide Web into a narrow realm controlled by a few dominant enterprises, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau's (IAB) technology chief. “We messed up,” writes SVP of Technology and Ad Operations Scott Cunningham in a statement published today. “We built advertising technology to optimize publishers' yield of marketing budgets that had eroded after the last recession. Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty.”

Cunningham's confessional asserts that Web innovations (think programmatic buying and retargeting) that have allowed marketers to target consumers frequently and cheaply have begun to backfire. You can't reach customers with such tools if customers shut them down. The number of people employing ad blockers worldwide has skyrocketed from 21 million in 2010 to 181 million in 2015, according to a study conducted by PageFair and Adobe. In the U.S. Ads are being deleted by 45 million people, a 48% increase over last year.

It's time to reign in the seekers of volume and scale and empower the champions of high-quality customer engagement, Cunningham contends. “We have let the fine equilibrium of content, commerce, and technology get out of balance in the open web. We had, and still do have, a responsibility to educate the business side, and in some cases to push back,” he writes. “We need to bring that back into alignment, starting right now.”

Specifically, the industry needs to address limits on per-page ad volumes and caps on retargeting that would cut off the flow after consumers make the purchase, Cunningham says. “If we are so good at reach and scale, we can be just as good, if not better, at moderation.”

The IAB Tech Lab, which is headed by Cunningham, today introduces the L.E.A.N. Ads program, which it hopes will ultimately serve as an alternate set of industry advertising standards. The acronym breaks down thusly:

Light: Limited file size with strict data call guidelines

Encrypted: User security assured with https/SSL compliant ads

Ad choices support: Ads adherent to Digital Advertising Alliance privacy programs

Non-invasive/disruptive: Ads supplement the user experience and don't disrupt it; includes covering content and sound enabled by default.

IAB also announced it is in the process of forming an ad blocking working group to investigate solutions to the problem.

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