I had the opportunity to sit down with Angela Mills Wade following her appointment as Chair of the EDAA Board. We chatted about the most significant challenges facing the online advertising industry and the work of EDAA in today’s rapidly changing data privacy environment in Europe.
Robin de Wouters: Having been very closely involved in the advertising and publishing industries for over 30 years, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?
Angela Mills Wade: In advertising, I think that there has always been a fine line between acceptable and unacceptable ads, innovation and change, which is why the focus has traditionally been on promoting legal, decent, honest, and truthful content with accountable systems and easy redress for consumers.
As we are now in the middle of a digital transformation, this focus has extended to include the methods used to integrate consumer data to deliver tailored ads in order to improve relevance and provide a better consumer experience in a hectic digital life.
Change is fueled by innovation, and the ad industry has come on leaps and bounds from the days depicted in Mad Men; we have retained a creative core, yet we have embraced the role and value of data, and not only to advertising itself, but to society as a whole. With that in mind, we have to be ready to face the challenges; technical, philosophical and economic. Self-regulation itself is essential in this regard, as it’s designed to respond to how consumers react to these challenges, sometimes unforeseen, and to complement the role of well-designed and effective legislation.
EDAA’s mission is to identify these challenges and work together with consumers and industry stakeholders and policy makers, to create an environment with the right balance: where European companies can continue to thrive, compete and innovate; where legislators can defer to self-regulatory measures as part of a “smarter” regulatory toolkit; and where consumers are empowered with meaningful information and control; all of this founded on a well-recognised and fundamental respect for personal rights and freedoms.
RdW: Where does EDAA fall in this important balancing act?
AMW: Having been closely involved in the self-regulatory efforts of both EDAA and EASA [the European Advertising Standards Alliance], I believe there is so much potential to steer the organisation in a direction to provide real value to all key stakeholders, but especially to consumers, and support companies with their evolving responsibilities.
There are many challenges currently facing the digital advertising industry, as a result of new obligations under the General Data Protection Regulation but also uncertainty from the pending ePrivacy Regulation which has the potential to drastically change the advertising ecosystem and produce a ripple effect that touches all of EDAA’s stakeholders and consumers. Some of the challenges need to be met through technical solutions, others through a more traditional consumer-facing self-regulatory approach. We need to find ways to work together so that the technical and consumer facing sides work in tandem, seamlessly through interoperable means.
Above all, I believe it’s important to focus efforts on empowering consumers with information and control over how their data is collected and used online. It is very important that the media and advertising industry stick together to find the best way to do this. We know that the use of data supports a rich, varied and open Internet ecosystem in which all benefit, but the current trade-off between ‘free’ and ‘ad-supported’ – in other words, ‘data-driven’ – is not well understood nor accepted. If consumers cannot trust what companies do with their data they will not want to allow those companies to collect data about their preferences or interests. Let’s take publishers, where this is a critical relationship with trust at its heart. If publishers cannot build rich data about their readers they will not be able to attract advertisers directly to their sites who will in turn go to the data-rich platforms instead (Facebook, Google). The EDAA has a long-standing commitment to provide real transparency to consumers and, beyond this, to build awareness of the tools and choices consumers have available to them. There is a central role in consumer education and we must make real efforts to finding new solutions that work for the whole media and advertising ecosystem.
It’s a critical time for everyone involved, and the EDAA has a duty to its members and participating companies to take the necessary steps to update our best practice and self-regulatory measures in the sector.
RdW: How is the EDAA uniquely positioned to handle these challenges?
AMW: The EDAA has been at the forefront of one of the single most successful collaborative efforts in our industry that I can remember, and is a tried, tested, and proven example of what effective self-regulation can accomplish when given the space to operate and when delivered to the highest standards. The EDAA is governed by a cross-industry coalition representing advertisers, agencies, media, direct marketers, and of course ad tech. This gives the EDAA important insight into what is happening on the ground, as well as a more comprehensive view of markets as a whole. It is this level of understanding that is necessary to make informed decisions that benefit consumers and the entire ecosystem.
Moreover, the EDAA is a well-established player in the self-regulatory world and led the way with a consumer-facing programme, complementary to legislation and other industry frameworks, which brought an enormous amount of value for companies. We now operate under a new regulatory framework since the General Data Protection Regulation came into force earlier this year and need to renew our approach to self-regulation in this light.
RdW: What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure as Chair?
AMW: The EDAA built its offering, from design up, with the consumer in mind. The tools it provides are consumer-facing, from the pan-European choice platform at youronlinechoices.eu, to the ubiquitous, globally recognised “icon” providing real-time contextual notice to consumers about why ads have been delivered to them, by whom, and how. We need to develop these features to reflect the GDPR and I look forward to helping the EDAA adapt and build on its mission. We can continue supporting the compliance and self-regulatory efforts of participating companies, update our tools and services in tandem with our industry partners to ensure relevance and value to companies, and deliver on consumer-centric initiatives. EDAA already possesses the attributes to achieve impressive things in this regard, and I look forward to what the future promises.