IAB UK Creates Head Of Ad Tech Role To Focus On The Industry’s Existential Crises

The world is in a state of flux – but so is the ad tech industry.

That’s why IAB UK created a new role in April focused solely on helping ad tech “build a more sustainable future,” said Tina Lakhani, who was elevated to fill the head of ad tech position. Lakhani joined IAB UK in 2018 as an ad tech manager.

As head of ad tech at IAB UK, it’s Lakhani's job to help establish and disseminate the group’s position on ad tech’s top burning issues, of which there is no lack.

Third-party cookies are on their way out, publishers are struggling with aggressive keyword blocking and regulators continue to question whether RTB is compatible with GDPR.

AdExchanger spoke with Lakhani (over Zoom, of course).

AdExchanger: What does it mean to build a sustainable future for ad tech?

TINA LAKHANI: A lot of it comes down to education about things like measurement, hygiene and ad fraud. Programmatic has grown so quickly and there are different levels of understanding – and sometimes a lack of understanding – about how this technology really works. One area we’re focusing on at the moment, for example, is brand safety and keyword blocking, which has become a big issue with the coronavirus. If marketers don’t know how to use verification technology properly, that has a big effect on the industry.

The UK government recently made a public call for brands to reconsider their use of keyword blocking technology during the pandemic.

Before there was government interest in the subject, we started raising awareness of the fact that publishers would start to experience a loss if advertisers began blocking content related to the coronavirus.

We produced a series of practical tips for advertisers on how to manage the coronavirus keyword blocking issue, and then the government sent letters to 100 brands promoting these tips and encouraging advertisers to speak to their content verification providers. News is considered an emergency service and it needs to be funded sustainably.

What have you been hearing from members as they try to weather the pandemic?

I’ve found that people are being quite proactive, actually, in wanting to help and provide us with information, data and stats to inform advertisers and encourage investment. And so IAB UK has been releasing weekly trends reports. One week we looked at the audio industry, another week we looked at gaming, where there are huge new audiences. There are still opportunities in this new environment.

Despite the pandemic, the ad tech world still faces a bunch of issues, such as third-party cookie deprecation in Chrome. What’s on your immediate agenda as the clock ticks down on cookies?

There are other concerns right now, of course, and personal things that people are dealing with during the pandemic – my sister had coronavirus quite badly, for example, – and the whole world is being affected. But in our industry, I’d say identity remains one of the biggest concerns.

For the first few weeks of the lockdown, I was very focused on the keyword blocking issue and working with cross-industry bodies representing advertisers, publishers and news brands to address the immediate problem. That work still continues. But now my attention is mainly on helping support Project Rearc.

What is IAB UK doing to back Project Rearc?

Part of my role is to be the IAB Tech Lab liaison for IAB UK, making sure that IAB Tech Lab initiatives are being promoted in the United Kingdom and that there is input from the United Kingdom back to the IAB Tech Lab. Whatever solution comes out of this will have to be a global solution, and local input is very important.

There’s also a global task force that’s open to anyone, whether they’re a member of the IAB Tech Lab or not – we’re helping facilitate anyone who wants to join – and two working groups, one focused on accountability and another on addressability, which are open to members only. We have a working group on our end that will feed into those two groups, with the first meeting soon to happen. It’s a big project.

How is IAB UK responding to the ICO’s report on ad tech and real-time bidding?

The first step was to make sure there were no misunderstandings, that nothing was being misinterpreted and determine that what was being called out in the report was actually happening in practice. For example, the report talks about the use of the content taxonomy field within RTB. We appreciate that there is a field, but is it actually being used?

Broadly, it was a well-informed report that asked some good questions and gave us areas to focus on for improvement and standardization. I always find it really interesting to talk about ad tech with regulators, because sometimes they ask what seems like a simple question that makes me stop and say, “You know, I hadn’t thought of that.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

 

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