How the lessons of 1914 still ring true today.
Edward W. Boyd, CEO, Current International and Magnifi, AAM board chairman
At our recent July board meeting, both formal and informal discussions centered around the industry’s ongoing digital transformation and its associated growing pains. As our role is to facilitate the relationships that help buyers buy and sellers sell, we debated how exactly to make that happen. We looked for parallels in other industries and found one in our own history. It’s a story that I think many have forgotten and I want to share it with you today.
At the turn of the 20th century, newspaper headlines were dominated by a common refrain of demanding honest circulation statements—even going so far as to offer rewards to charities if their competitors could prove their claims. The refrain grew to a roar as newspapers literally engaged in bloody battles on a Chicago street in a bid for coveted ad dollars.
In a peak of frustration, the country’s advertisers took control of the situation by organizing themselves, advertising agencies and publishers, calling for a halt to the widespread fraud and demanding accountability in circulation data. The Audit Bureau of Circulations was born from this meeting. And with its membership growth—more than 1,000 members in just one year—laid the foundation for advertising and media to become big business throughout the 20th century.
At the foundation of that growth lay a critical cornerstone: trust. The marked contrast between the world of media and advertising before the Audit Bureau of Circulations and after is startling and often taken for granted. Many in the media industry are unaware of the industry’s colorful and sometimes violent past, too accustomed to the order and connection established by those honest founding advertisers, agencies and publishers so many years ago.
As we struggle with the rise and changing landscape caused by digital media, I hear the echoes of history. What once was missing in print is often absent in digital media: third-party transparency, assurance and, most importantly, a business built on trust and relationships.
We have grown so accustomed with the efficiencies that technology brings to our lives that we have often neglected to understand how the technology works and build relationships with the people running it, leading us to place misguided trust in a machine and not a person who is held accountable to a higher standard.
And so once again, we see media dominated by headlines demanding accountability:
“Publishers Losing up to $3.5 Million A Day Due to Counterfeit Inventory”
“Mobile Ad Fraud Surging as Scammers Get Smarter”
“Ad Fraud is ‘Second Only to The Drugs Trade’ As A Source of Income for Organized Crime”
Today’s fraud isn’t characterized by hired thugs beating up newspaper rivals and dumping copies of newspapers in the river. It is instead comprised of fraudulent organizations and individuals using technology to mimic real people or real sites, stealing audiences and dollars from advertisers and undermining legitimate publishers.
What also remains true at a foundational level is that fraud is a moral issue and needs to be viewed as such.
The solution to this threat is already written in our story, more than 100 years ago. Fed up with the rampant fraud, industry players stopped fighting each other and came together to demand a solution while holding each other accountable to standards and oversight. With a baseline agreement of how legitimate publishers would operate, the parties began to rebuild their relationships and develop a better understanding of how each of their businesses intersected, working in partnership to achieve the common goal of selling to an engaged audience. With transparency and trust, all parties flourished.
It is with a nod to the past and a foot firmly in the future that AAM developed Quality Certification, a third-party audit that brings quality publishers with legitimate audiences to the forefront and allows marketers to easily identify and invest in them, building a relationship of trust and transparency where before there was none.
Quality Certification encourages fraud-free environments in three steps:
- Commit to audit – An early and strong indication of a publisher’s good intentions and commitment to doing the right thing.
- Review business process – An understanding of how the business operates and the controls it has in place to prevent and root out fraud.
- Consistent monitoring of quantity and quality – A constant review of the quality of the audiences visiting a website and engaging the content and ads.
Quality Certification is AAM’s commitment to our promise of helping sellers sell and buyers buy. It arms publishers with the ability to promote the amount and quality of their inventory and audience which helps differentiate them and enhance their value story. Digital assurance is at the heart of my work as chairman of AAM and you will continue to see our focus on this in the year ahead.