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Digital ad industry commits to major overhaul

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Dozens of the world's biggest advertising and content companies, including major tech firms, brands, ad agencies and industry groups, announced Tuesday their commitment to a newly-created alliance to take significant steps to improve digital safety.

Why it matters: It's the biggest and most comprehensive industry effort to date to tackle the ongoing brand safety crisis online. Competing groups are putting their differences aside to solve the problem quickly in the face of global regulatory threats.

"Because we don't know what the regulation is going to look like, we want to get out front and figure out how to solve the problem."
— John Montgomery, EVP of Brand Safety at GroupM

Details: The immediate focus of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media is to create a working group that will prioritize a set of concrete steps to begin creating a set of actions, processes and protocols for protecting people and brands from nefarious content online.

  • The launch members of the Alliance will meet for the first time Wednesday at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France. The meeting will be hosted by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) Board.
  • The group so far includes major advertisers like Adidas, Mastercard, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Shell, and Unilever, as well as publishers like NBCUniversal and Verizon.
  • It also includes Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter, and other tech platforms are close to signing on. GroupM, the ad buying arm of ad holding giant WPP is taking a lead role on the agency side, but says other ad holding groups will be committed to the effort. All of the major ad trade groups are in.

The big picture: The coordinated industry effort comes as lawmakers around the world debate potential regulations for the digital advertising and content industries.

Be smart: While talks of growing regulation make new laws and rules feel inevitable, the advertising and digital content industries have been particularly good at coming together to self-regulate when their industries face existential crises.

  • In 2009, several advertising several trade organizations created the Digital Advertising Alliance to develop self-regulatory principles for online behavioral advertising per the recommendation of the Federal Trade Commission, which had been looking into data privacy rules online.
  • In 2016, platforms raced to build sophisticated political advertising transparency tools, eventually beating lawmakers to regulating the problem before the Honest Ads Act won enough support in Congress.
  • Today, the alliance is being launched as the industry is faces threats of national privacy legislation that would threaten the data collection necessary to execute many digital ad transactions.

Between the lines: One of the goals of the Alliance would be to create cross-industry brand safety standards that Big Tech companies would use when evaluating content online.

  • This would unify tech companies in the decision-making process over what types of content remains on their platforms.

Our thought bubble: We've seen several times in recent weeks that different standards across platforms about what type of content is considered safe on the internet causes confusion and frustration among lawmakers, brands and consumers.

  • The standardization of content rules across the major platforms would be a major step forward for the industry, and could help resolve growing skepticism around platform bias.

Go deeper: Big Tech's shifting lobbying army