Originally published on MarTech Series.

By Joe Zawadzki

Digital Advertising needs a shakeup. The only way to rebuild, to effect big, bold change, is to do the work from the outside in and rewrite the rules for Digital Advertising. The industry simply must come together around an end-to-end rules-based platform for Marketing that connects brands and agencies through tech to media and consumers with accountability and transparency at each point across the media supply chain.

What does it mean to be a “rules-based” platform?

In basic terms, the goal is to adopt high standards where they exist and work across the industry to build and/or fine-tune them where they don’t. These rules should form the basis for things like data provenance, defining who’s a legitimate buyer and seller in the supply chain, banning vectors for fraud and malware, redefining legacy practices in areas as basic as how numbers are counted and money flows.

All these rules will need to comply with the regulations currently in effect around data privacy—the GDPR for those doing business in the EU and soon the CCPA in California—while adapting to the new law and anticipating what laws should become when yet unwritten.

The stakes are high, the cause urgent. Companies need Marketing to survive, people need companies for jobs. Advertising funds quality journalism, journalism supports democracy. People like to discover the products and services they want and need while supporting content creation both professional and amateur.

And, while Digital Advertising has the power to grow and deepen brands’ direct customer relationships and make marketing the most measurable medium ever, we’ve never fully delivered on the promise. Brand investments in digital get lost in misaligned incentives and opacity as they make their way through either a dizzyingly complex chain of independent companies, or to the walled gardens who fund massive growth off massive bases by making the market between brands, consumers, and the third-party media owners they enable. We need a third way.

How we got here was the growth born from technology and consumers’ rapid adoption of it. In the decade and a half since the iPhone made supercomputers in pockets ubiquitous and media mobile, televisions, billboards, and radio went digital. As nature abhors a vacuum, so do advertising dollars follow eyeballs, where the dynamism of technology met a marketplace that was never designed but simply evolved.

Over the last decade, certainly, companies have adopted standards that have been defined through trade associations, but it’s been challenging to ensure system-wide implementation or compliance. It’s also been impossible to do it on a global basis. And far too many companies have shown no interest in standards at all. To ensure new industry standards aren’t just recommendations, but also carried through to be implemented, disseminated, and enforced, technology companies and content owners must work together to:

  • translate principles and law into technical code and multi-firm contractual agreements across this new infrastructure
  • impose new standards of behavior, data distribution on new rails; and
  • use market incentives to reward alignment and compliance

Essentially, build the ideal state as a microcosm of what the world should look like—show people that it works better, and then aggressively recruit everybody else to be part of it.

This rules-based platform is truly a new model for how digital advertising should operate, and one that will require a deep level of industry collaboration. To get to this ideal state, technology companies and content owners must be willing to make changes at the enterprise level. They must be prepared to change their business, in many cases—to change their business model, to define new technical standards, and to create joint roadmaps together. And brands too must change—paying more to get more—in order to reward the media owner to invest more, across a backbone of trust.

My strong belief is that if we design a new digital advertising ecosystem from the outside in—starting with the standards and rules, and building it through the lens of the consumer, we the people are it were—we will be able to deliver on the promise as originally intended: enabling brands to build meaningful, measurable connections with customers.

It’s a rare opportunity to be able to define rather than evolve. It behooves us to do it now.