Irony alert: initiative to increase digital transparency lacks transparency.

I was reading this article the other day.

It’s titled ‘Raising the bar for brand safety‘, and subtitled ‘Premium publishers must commit to higher standards for online advertising, not only to safeguard brand safety but also minimise ad fraud and maximise viewability‘. The author is Richard Reeves, Managing Director of the Association for Online Publishing.

I 100% appreciate the intention, but I can’t help feeling it doesn’t exactly practice what it preaches:

As the voice of premium digital publishers and a founder member of the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS), the Association for Online Publishing (AOP) is committed to securing the long-term success of the digital ecosystem.

This really starts as it means to go on: with a lack of specificity that leads to the very lack of transparency it professes to want to stamp out. Who are ‘premium digital publishers’? In what way are you their ‘voice’? Is JICWEBS a big deal? What do you mean by ‘success’? And isn’t the digital eco-system the entire internet? Can you really secure anything for such a massive entity? If so, how?

However, this goal is only achievable if the industry works together to create a more sustainable, accountable and reliable future, by adopting universal standards that go above and beyond minimum requirements.

‘More sustainable, accountable and reliable’ than what? What are these universal standards? Who defines them? What are ‘minimum requirements’ and how far ‘above and beyond’ them do you intend to go? 1%? 18% How will we know?

As such, the AOP’s innovative Ad Quality Charter, launched at its recent Inside Out Digital Publishing Convention, aims to commit itself and its members to ethical trading standards and better media verification.

Aiming to commit yourself to something? Why not just commit? How long will the aiming last?  And what are these ‘ethical trading standards’ to which you are aiming to commit? Can you commit to what those might be? Can you aim to commit to what those might be? And ‘better’ media verification than what, exactly? And how much better etc. etc.

The new charter – currently a draft – recognises that the industry must take greater collective responsibility for providing advertisers and agencies with access to quality inventory and verified audiences through a transparent supply chain. It will require the AOP and its members to adhere to stringent quality requirements relating to the contentious issues of brand safety, fraud and viewability.

‘Providing advertisers and agencies with access to quality inventory and verified audiences through a transparent supply chain’ doesn’t specify what ‘quality’ means (high quality? Low quality?), nor does it specify what ‘verified’ or ‘transparent’ mean. I’m sure Mr. Reeves is aware that there are degrees of transparency, verification, responsibility and quality, but his lack of specificity makes him look as if his entire premise is built on rather weak foundations.

It goes on for another few paragraphs, which contain the following undefined words and phrases:

minimise the risk

exploit the industry,

fraud detection and non-human traffic tools

a metric that will exceed the current industry standards.

deliver bespoke viewability metrics

optimise on-page placement based on user behaviour and content consumption

commit to reducing unacceptable ad clutter.

address the root causes of latency and the subsequent impact on viewability performance.

premium consumer experience

ensuring the healthy future of the digital advertising industry.

raise the bar for digital advertising standards,

cleansing and protecting the supply chain

allowing the ecosystem to flourish.

If you want to create better standards and practices in digital advertising, more power to you – God knows the industry needs them. But if the official bodies dedicated to this set their stall out with such indistinct vaguery it doesn’t bode well for the future.

If you stand for transparency, clarity and accountability you need to prove it in your own practices.

After all, if you aren’t going to do it, why should anyone else?