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We’re now two weeks removed from the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Florida where President/CEO Randall Rothenberg blistered the crowd with a Jeremiad that was both bracing and very, very clear. I’ll paraphrase:
This thing of ours has gotten pretty fucked up. And if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.
This thing of ours, of course, is digital advertising and marketing. And he’s right. The very fact that the head of your industry organization is giving a speech called “Repair the Trust” tells you a lot. Sure, we’ve had areas of disagreement and mushy standards for much of the last two decades. But when the subjects were arcane things like terms & conditions, viewability and margin transparency, most of us just kept our eyes down and pushed our food around the plate. Avoidance and obfuscation was a perfectly reasonable strategy.
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But no longer. Because now the issue is fake news. Remember that kid sitting in his kitchen in Macedonia pumping out fake news stories about Obama’s love child or the Papal endorsement of the Trump campaign? Turns out we were collectively paying him. Ouch.
The rotten system that blindly rewards page views and ad calls and shares has become the intravenous feeding tube for parasitic monsters who may realistically render the concept of truth itself irrelevant. Fake traffic and fraudulent video numbers were bad. Fake truth and moral relativism are much, much worse.
Randall made it very clear when he said “It’s time to get out of the fake anything business.” Yes. We are only as good and as moral as who our system pays and what it pays for. Without ethical clarity, the next $50 billion in digital advertising revenue will be just so much drug money. And each one of us has a part to play in making sure it’s not.
You see, our business is really just an average of the behaviors of our best and worst players. It’s time to bring back the concept of shame. If you employ the highest standards as a publisher, talk about them. If you demand the highest standards as an advertiser, pay for them. And whoever you are, get off the line and pick a side.
The world is watching.