Last May Digital Content Next, a trade organization that represents many of the big digital media companies, launched TrustX, a curated, automated ad-buying marketplace designed to offer advertisers a more consistent, brand-safe way to purchase ad innovatory. Nearly thirty digital publishers — including Hearst, Conde Nast, Vox Media, and Time Inc. — joined the effort, hoping to aid in the attempt to rebuild trust in the digital advertising ecosystem.
The effort gained another big ally on Wednesday — this time on the buyer side — with the Association of National Advertisers, which is partnering with Digital Content Next on TrustX. ANA is a big, big player in the advertising industry, representing roughly 5,000 brands, across about 1,000 advertisers, that in total control $250 billion a year in advertising budgets, so its involvement in TrustX is an important development for the industry. Like the publishers selling advertising inventory, advertisers are invested in improving how ads are bought and sold online. TrustX is promising advertisers a bundle of key perks, including a guarantee that they will only pay for ads that can be seen by actual humans, a scorecard that details supply chain costs, and better transparency into publishers’ inventory supply. Put simply, TrustX is trying to give advertisers more confidence that they’re not wasting their money when they buy ads online.It’s too early to say how much advertisers will end up spending though TrustX, but the TrustX effort in general could go a long way toward addressing at least some of the issues plaguing digital advertising, including advertising fraud(wherein advertisers pay for ads loaded by armies of bots or for ads loaded on spoofed websites) and what the industry calls the “ad tech tax,” a byproduct of the complexity of digital ad buying where the many middlemen in the advertising supply chain add their own costs and hurt advertisers’ return on investment.
That the industry has been forced to make such a concerted effort like TrustX is ironic, given that one of the promises of digital advertising was that it makes the process of buying ad space infinitely easier. Instead, digital advertising has introduced a handful of new wrinkles to the process. For companies obsessed with brand safety (think, for example, Disney and most consumer packaged goods companies), or those concerned with whether digital advertising is worth the investment, this uncertainty erodes trust in the digital ecosystem, which limits how much money they’re willing to spend with media companies that are increasingly desperate for cash. (Procter & Gamble and Unilever, two of the world’s biggest advertisers, have scaled back their digital ad buying for this reason.) The success of TrustX could, at least on the margins, help turn that around.