Meet the standards setter
JICWEBS oversees the independent development of good practice and standards for digital ad trading. Here, its new CEO, Jules Kendrick, explains why self-regulation will only work if everyone in adland plays their part.
Richard Foan departed the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards in September 2018, paving the way for your arrival. What have those first months been like?
I became chief executive of JICWEBS late last year and since then, the digital advertising industry has been increasingly under the spotlight for how it’s being regulated and run. From the content moderation policies of Instagram, to the call for an independent register of political advertising, to the demand for legislation and an industry regulator to oversee what The Guardian called recently the ‘cowboys’ of the “digital wild west”, digital advertising has never been out of the news.
Since I joined, I’ve been asked where this leaves JICWEBS, a not-for-profit, cross-industry, regulatory body. JICWEBS’ mission is to deliver recognised trust and transparency in digital advertising, and we do this by setting standards that companies can be audited to, to increase transparency around how they operate. I think these standards are more relevant than ever.
What do the standards cover?
In the main our standards cover brand safety (ad misplacement), fraud reduction and viewability. They don’t address the hugely contentious areas of ad and social media content, other than by association. Society is currently debating the balance between freedom of speech and censorship online. JICWEBS, meanwhile, is trying to shine a spotlight on digital advertising business practices and policies.
How do they increase industry transparency?
Once a signatory has undergone an independent audit, we publish a certificate on our website which details how they apply our standards. In April 2018, a House of Lords select committee recommended companies sign up with JICWEBS and commit to self-regulation. Since that time many have, and we’re proud of the 137 signatories who have publicly committed to trust and transparency, including most of the major ad agencies and UK publishers. However, we would argue this is only a small percentage of our industry and, for self-regulation to work effectively, many more need to be publicly sharing their business practices, to underpin trust through transparency.
And are these standards working to regulate the industry?
There are no quick fixes for the complex and often fragmented scenarios which have been constructed over the last 20 years. When JICWEBS was created social media didn’t even exist. We believe that when you’re aiming for cross-industry consensus, you have to take a realistic approach to progress. JICWEBS standards are created by the advertising industry, for the industry, through our working groups. These groups are formed by members nominated from the four industry trade bodies that make up the JICWEBS board – ISBA, the IPA, IAB and AOP. This makes our standards truly impartial and cross-industry – aiming to work for everyone.
The Internet is global, how can you regulate that?
We operate in a global marketplace and, of course, standards have to work globally. Our mantra of ‘global standards for local markets’ has guided us in forming a partnership with US based TAG, and the adoption in January this year of their Certified Against Fraud programme as the Anti-Fraud standard for the UK market, with the added requirement that companies operating in the UK undergo an independent audit. Research into the efficacy of this programme found a 94% fraud reduction in TAG certified channels in Europe, proving how effective self-regulation can be, if everyone across the supply chain has signed up.
So will the digital ad industry be able to effectively regulate itself?
Progress towards transparency has been constant over the last few years, yet fraud, ad misplacement and viewability challenges remain. We are reducing risk, but our biggest challenge is complacency. Many organisations don’t feel they need to be transparent with their business practices because it’s not demanded of them.
Some advertisers have called out these issues, yet few have pulled their advertising or demanded their agencies only use channels that publicly apply JICWEBS standards. When we have the means to demonstrate effective self-regulation, we should all play our part. Together we can create the transparency that builds trust.