Making The Case For Accountability

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by George Ivie, CEO and executive director at Media Rating Council.

Most transactions are predicated on a good-faith promise. Parties agree to exchange goods, services or funds of agreed-upon value with the explicit understanding that they will not only be delivered, but also accurately reflect the value that was assigned to them.

Mechanisms of accountability make such agreements work. One party accepts the other’s promise of delivery of stated value, with safeguards in place that the receipt of value will be verified. This is what enables agreements to be confidently entered into. In the absence of some framework of accountability, it would be difficult for transaction agreements to be executed, especially at scale.

That is certainly the case for advertising, where the verification mechanism is primarily one of measurement.

In light of this, it’s puzzling to me why there is sometimes resistance to the concept of standards and determinations of compliance with standards. Standards, especially as they relate to measurement, are the foundation of trust and accountability.

They provide an agreed-upon benchmark as to how verification should be approached and assessed, and the verification itself is as critical as the standards.

But standards are sometimes viewed as being overly restrictive or, in some cases, too blunt and indiscriminate an instrument, because they don’t allow for unique or proprietary approaches.

That, however, is a misunderstanding of what standards are and how they are intended to be applied.

Standards do not dictate that all approaches need to be alike – or even what they should be.  They instead set a minimum requirement that must be met to satisfy industry criteria for effectiveness. Entities can certainly exceed requirements defined by standards, but when they are complied with, such standards provide assurance to companies that a service or product utilizes an approach or methodology that meets a baseline of accepted industry norms.

In other words, standards serve as the foundation for accountability.

Rather than restricting or limiting commerce, standards and their related validation processes actually propel it. When there is a commitment to accountability – and proper mechanisms in place to verify it – confidence is enhanced, and there is a greater motivation to engage in transactions and, in fact, to expand their parameters.

At its core, advertising is a promise. To the consumer, it is a promise that the attributes and benefits promoted are, in fact, accurate and true. To the buyers and sellers of advertising, advertising is the promise of audiences delivered. But in both cases, those promises are accepted and viewed to be of value because there are mechanisms of accountability – defined by standards – in place. 

Accountability does not restrict or confine the advertising industry; it makes the industry stronger.

In a hyper-competitive industry such as advertising, proprietary advantages are seen, and rightfully so, as drivers of success and market share. But it is the promise of accountability that gives credibility, weight and value to these advantages. This is the key to ensuring a strong market for transactions and providing the foundation for innovation.

The MRC lives and breathes standards, and through our audit processes and compliance validation work, the end result is MRC accreditation, where warranted.

We’re not the only organization with that goal. The Alliance for Audited Media and the BPA also carry this flag from a validation perspective. But to continue growing and advancing the advertising industry, we all need to embrace accountability as well as the standards that provide its structure – and, accordingly, we need to better identify and support the measurement providers that embrace standards compliance and verification.

It is vital to the accountability on which the entire ad industry depends that measurement organizations seek validation and/or accreditation wherever possible.

For our part, as one step in pursuit of this goal, MRC plans to develop additional methods to effectively communicate information to the marketplace about audit engagement and timing. In this way, the marketplace can better understand those measurement organizations, data providers, ad servers, verification vendors, self-measuring platforms and others that have made a commitment to step forward for accountability.

We are at a critical time, with momentum toward innovation, cross-media activities and new data sources – all taking place against the backdrop of necessary privacy considerations. So I ask that you consider this case for accountability and do your part to help MRC act upon it.

Follow George Ivie (@gwivieMRC) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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