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ANA Pushes $50 Million Digital Media Pilot to Combat 'Ad-Tech Tax'

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After years of complaining about digital media fraud, brand safety and other problems, the Association of National Advertisers hopes to do something about it, starting a six-month pilot with what it hopes will be 35 marketers and more than $50 million in spending for 30 premium online publishers.

The goals include better measuring how much money ad-tech and other "middle players" are siphoning out of the digital media marketplace between advertisers and publishers.

Only 30 to 40 cents of every digital media dollar are estimated to actually reach publishers and result in an ad showing up, ANA CEO Bob Liodice said in a statement. The ad-tech companies that charge fees along the way argue that they add value by, for example, finding the right audiences or the best ad inventory. But the ANA sees much of those fees as a drag on marketers' return, to say nothing of ad fraud that is hard to detect in all the complexity.

The ANA's goal is to get that 30 or 40 cents up to 70 cents, diverting $20 billion from various middle players or fraud.

The pilot involves TrustX, formed in May as a non-profit programmatic trading subsidiary of the Digital Content Next, a trade group representing such publishers as CBS Interactive, Viacom, A&E Networks, ABC, Conde Nast, Hearst, NBC Universal, ESPN, News Corp., the Washington Post, Meredith and Vox Media.

The TrustX marketplace guarantees that advertisers "pay only for transactions certified as human and viewable in brand-safe environments," according to the ANA.

ANA members or other marketers were already free to use TrustX. But the pilot provides additional data and analytics around the share of media dollars that actually make their way to publishers and, alternately, the share consumed by what the ANA is calling the "ad-tech tax," meaning fees associated with various middle players in media buying.

Bill Tucker, the former Mediavest CEO and 4A's executive who switched to the marketing side earlier this year to join the ANA, is leading the effort. The pilot aims to "aggregate non-confidential information that can be used as benchmarks for programmatic media buying," Tucker says. "This hopefully will set the bar higher for media buying power."

The pilot doesn't involve pooling budgets for lower rates, Tucker says. But he acknowledges that TrustX offers big advertisers something much of the digital media marketplace doesn't: scale-based discounts for individual buyers.

While the ANA is serving as intermediary, marketers are free to get their agencies or tech partners involved, he says.

No marketers have signed on to the pilot yet but several have expressed interest, according to Tucker. The goal is to enlist 35 marketers, each pledging at least $1.5 million in spending. Tucker says he expects funds to come from existing programmatic buying, possibly including funds marketers already have earmarked for TrustX publishers.

ANA Chairman and Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard has been vocal about digital supply-chain problems in speeches this year, vowing to stop spending with players that don't have third-party audience measurement accredited by the Media Rating Council by year end. That group currently includes industry heavyweights Google and Facebook, neither of which are part of TrustX. TrustX members generally already meet P&G's standards.

P&G and Walmart are among the only major players still keeping ads off YouTube over brand-safety concerns after a wave of advertisers backed out earlier this year. And P&G slashed digital spending by around $140 million last quarter over brand-safety and other supply-chain concerns. But it's not certain those companies will participate in the pilot. A P&G spokeswoman couldn't immediately reach executives for comment, and a Walmart spokeswoman couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article inaccurately referred to a trade group representing publishers. It is Digital Content Next, not Digital Content Network.