IAB Chief 'Can't Deal With This Shit,' Demands Members Join TAG

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Randall Rothenberg.
Randall Rothenberg. Credit: Courtesy IAB

The digital ad business has made another move to regain the high ground, when the Interactive Advertising Bureau ordered all of its members to register with the anti-fraud Trustworthy Accountability Group.

TAG was conceived in 2015 by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers and the Interactive Advertising Bureau to act as a stamp of approval for ad sellers.

While about 100 of the 450 publishers, ad tech firms and ad exchanges in the IAB have already registered with TAG, industry fears about ad fraud continue to plague the business.

"We can't deal with this shit anymore," IAB President-CEO Randall Rothenberg told Ad Age. "This is serious."

The IAB's new requirement comes as a litany of problems has hurt digital media in the eyes of ad buyers and consumers alike. In January, P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard revealed that he was so startled by the company's digital ad fraud audit that he would stop working with companies that didn't register with TAG. "The days of giving digital a pass are over," Mr. Pritchard said then.

In March, marketers "paused" YouTube spending after reporters informed them that their ads were running next to violent and offensive videos. And JPMorgan Chase cut its digital advertising to 5,000 newly preapproved sites from 400,000 automatically selected domains after learning that one of its ads ran on a site called Hillary 4 Prison, under a headline about "the Satanic liberal perverts who run Hollywood."

On Thursday, however, the industry revealed an initiative to rid the internet of annoying ad formats. Now the TAG program has received a big push.

Rothenberg likened the IAB's TAG registration requirement to basic government health standards. "Every hot dog cart, no matter how small, has to follow the city's health code," he said.

Registering the entire IAB membership with TAG will make it easier for ad buyers, agencies and others "to look up and down the supply chain" and determine the source of problems like fraud, Rotherberg said.

The registration process determines that a company is a legitimate player and not a fraudulent entity such as a malware distributor or bot net disseminator. In addition to ensuring that applicants are not the proverbial ad-bot launcher living in mom's basement somewhere in Romania, TAG requires that registrants have a trained "TAG compliance officer." The IAB gave members until June 2018 to register with TAG.

The IAB is not demanding that its members be certified by TAG, a pricier and more-involved process. Ad inventory sellers who qualify for TAG's anti-fraud certification are assigned a payment ID that marks inventory, essentially creating a trail that can be tracked back if ad fraud is discovered by an ad fraud protection vendor, for example.

Many sellers also use ad fraud prevention and brand safety-related services from firms such as White Ops, DoubleVerify, Integral Ad Science or Moat, which was acquired this week by Oracle.

TAG acts as a "good housekeeping seal" and does not compete with these providers, said TAG CEO Mike Zaneis.

"The more companies that commit to fighting fraud and improving transparency in the digital media ecosystem, the better the system works for all parties," said Matt McLaughlin, chief operating officer at DoubleVerify.

While the TAG requirement will help create a more encompassing list of qualified companies touching ad inventory, Rothenberg wants brands to join TAG too, because their websites are also touchpoints in the inventory supply chain and can themselves become unwitting cogs in fraud schemes.

As part of the IAB's edict, the annual TAG registration fee of $10,000 will be waived for IAB members making less than $20 million per year in digital ad revenue. Larger IAB members will qualify for discounts between 12.5% and 25%.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article erroneously said the Trustworthy Accountability Group would waive its annual registration fee for IAB members generating under $10 million per year in digital ad revenue. It will waive the fee for IAB members generating less than $20 million in digital ad revenue.

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