The Big Tent, Revisited.
I love the Interactive Advertising Bureau. And I love Randall Rothenberg. As someone who was among the early board members back in the mid-90s, I’m gratified and more than a little amazed at the scale and effectiveness of the organization on Randall’s watch. Lobbyists, standards, tests, thousand-attendee conferences….the IAB is in every way a big-time trade organization. But for whom, exactly?
Like 16th century Christianity, the IAB has reached an existential moment where it must account for the diverging visions and interests of internal factions if it’s to avoid a schism. The Anne Boleyn issue of today is the decision by Mozilla to block third party cookies by default in upcoming releases of the Firefox browser. The IAB’s full throated defense of third party cookies — IAB General Counsel Mike Zaneis called it a “nuclear first strike,” — has now evoked a mini-firestorm with some publishers, a flame that is being stoked by the publisher-only OPA.
You see, rightly or wrongly, some publishers believe that a world of only first-party cookies – those set by (or in direct coordination with) sites – would help them counteract the dominance of networks, resellers, exchanges and ad-tech companies. Meanwhile, the networks and other third parties credibly argue that they are a vital accelerant and lubricant in the flow of marketer dollars onto the web and into the hands of small-medium sized websites. And just in case the situation wasn’t complex enough, layer on the fact that publishers — the ones who would ostensibly benefit from third party cookies going away – have come to rely on those same networks and third parties for a big chunk of their monthly revenue. “The IAB represents the sellers of interactive advertising inventory — publishers, in the parlance — plainly and simply, with no nuances attached,” according to a recent post by Rothenberg on the issue. But every seller is not, in fact, a publisher. So nuance still abounds. The problem – a thorny one– is that every company who pays dues to the IAB thinks it’s their IAB.
So what’s a trade organization to do?
Perhaps the answer – and the bulwark against further fraying of the coalition – is for the IAB to claim a more neutral mantra. I personally have no dog in this fight. My clients run the gamut from the biggest, most data-protective publishers to the most cookie-dependent third-party networks. My business is about helping them sell more effectively regardless of their data position, customer base or competitive set. I only care about the continued flow of more and more marketing dollars into digital media; I want it to keep raining so that things will grow. I know that’s what the IAB cares most about too. Supporting the growth of all digital spending means not having to take a hardline position on something as specific as third party cookies. And that may ultimately be the only way to keep all the partisans fighting under the same banner.