IAB Moves from Stressing Growth to Stressing Quality

The advertising industry is not suffering. The IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) Annual Leadership Meeting at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge recently was full of escapees from New York who were on their company expense accounts trying to sell to each other. They were from brands, publishers and ad tech companies — all of them self-defining as “media.”


IAB is the industry organization that sets the standard for online advertising. it prescribes the formats of ads publishers run on their digital sites, and it does  research on what’s coming down the pike in an industry that often seems to change every day. While IAB was founded to help publishers sell their inventory online, it now allows ad tech companies as members and has recognized that data is as important as inventory. 600 people now belong to IAB and attend this Annual Leadership Meeting.


The major  sponsors, as you may have guessed, are Yahoo, AOL Platforms, and Google, even though they are all disliked by advertisers. The advertisers  prefer Thrillist, if you pay attention to what the GE speaker said. That’s because Thrillist sites have the viewers.  And the complexity of the industry is reflected in a huge list of supporting sponsors, including many of the players who automated the ad industry and freaked out the publishers.


For this year, IAB has several major priorities. All of them revolve around helping publishers survive the never-ending shift to digital, which has put many of them on shaky footing over the past two decades. Last year they had to face the rise of mobile.


The first is creating a trustworthy digital supply chain, which means certifying vendors and kicking out the riffraff. This will be difficult to do, since the supply chain sometimes seems endless. While advertising used to be bought and sold on a handshake in a fancy restaurant, now it’s bought by algorithms. Those algorithm companies call themselves everything from supply-siide platforms to ad exchanges to ad networks to data management platforms to demand side platforms.


While none of these suppliers consider themselves riffraff, a media buyer who enters an order into an automated system may not know which middlemen sent that order to what publisher’s with available inventory, which service is taking a piece out of what she is paying for the ad, or whether that ad ran underneath another ad being shown at the same microsecond. In fact, on auction platforms, she may not even know what she bought. She’ll get a lot of reports, but they probably won’t make much sense because there isn’t a useful metric to measure the ROI of her investment.


This has proved troublesome, because advertisers are beginning to get tired of paying for ads  consumers never see, or see for so little time that they can’t make an impact. What do you think this does for the revenue of publishers? You guessed it. It is difficult to make a case for higher ad prices if you can’t give an advertiser some return on investment.


IAB is beginning to certify tech companies that measure the viewability of ads, which has been questionable since the industry went to Real Time Bidding (RTB), an automated auction marketplace that is used for all but the most premium ads. And it is also planning to certify digital ad salespeople and to educate them. Last, it is trying to find a metric that actually measures the audience for an ad — the way Gross Rating Points measures it for TV.


Looks like 2015 will be another year of change.