Extremists are among us! IAB ALM 🔥
A lot of talk about a tent, some rotting apples, a luau, and politicians! The AdLingo IAB ALM 2023 recap.
After our multi-year hiatus, gathering with my colleagues in the digital ad mafia was great. Like most years, IAB selects a lovely, but mildly annoying to get to location. This year, the IAB ALM was held at the JW Marriot in Marco Island, FL.
Florida might not be the place you think of as progressive, tech-forward, or inclusive. Yet there we were, actively discussing those topics.
This year’s themes were:
Don’t be mean to the walled gardens.
Let’s figure out how to do “privacy” without actually sacrificing
Retail media network conversations with people who have no idea what retail media is.
And A-rod…because ok. (See below)
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Meanwhile, the Department of Justice filed suit against Google for monopolistic behavior [NY Times]. That may be why the Google cabana-hammock looked like this. 😬
Shots heard around the Lumascape
At some point today (Jan 30, 2023), the IAB plans to publish the recording of David Cohen, CEO of IAB’s opening keynote address. In the meantime, here’s the written transcript.
Cohen took the stage with a bang, taking immediate shots at Congress’s “extremist” privacy legislation and Apple’s.
Extremists are winning the battle for hearts and minds in Washington D.C. and beyond. We cannot let that happen. These extremists are political opportunists who’ve made it their mission to cripple the advertising industry and eliminate it from the American economy and culture.
The opportunists are on all sides of the political spectrum.
- David Cohen, CEO IAB
Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting elements of Cohen’s speech. Any bold emphasis was added by me.
This IAB Annual Leadership Meeting is part of IAB’s commitment to continue to bring the entire digital ecosystem together to invent a better future. Publishers, platforms, brands, and ad agencies; private equity and venture capital; martech and ad tech - we want you all inside this tent.
My take: Brands? Ehhhh ok. This event is always brand-light. The only ones that attend are invited to speak on stage, typically all expenses paid by the session host. The IAB is majority a sell-side organization, and its policies reflect that.
Everything changed in 1994. One can really go so far as to say…“It Started There”. Literally.
Bots hadn’t been invented yet, and fraud barely existed. There was one acronym for video — TV — instead of today’s alphabet soup. Regulations were few, and compliance was easy.
My take: Bot hadn’t been invited yet? Ok fine. 48 hours later, they were.
Takeaway 1: Extremists are winning the battle for hearts and minds in Washington D.C. and beyond. We cannot let that happen. These extremists are political opportunists who’ve made it their mission to cripple the advertising industry and eliminate it from the American economy and culture. The opportunists are on all sides of the political spectrum.
Our take: Shots fired! This is where the rhetoric starts to make the challenge of privacy, cookies, CCPA, GDPR, and all other forms of regulation sound like a nuclear bomb on the industry. In reality, the digital ad market would take a big hit, but none larger than big ad tech, the primary IAB stakeholder. Publishers would not have to fold up shop the next day.
Takeaway 2: We must all be in this together. If we can’t fix the rotting at our core, we won’t survive. While there are no shortage of extremists attacking our industry from the outside, there are some attacking it from the inside out. Most notably, Apple exemplifies the cynicism and hypocrisy that underpins the prevailing extremist view.
Apple is fine with advertising, as long as they get to control it on their terms — while destroying anyone else’s ability to profit from it. They’ve done it before to other industries, and they’ll do it to us if we let them. To Apple, using behavioral signals are perfectly fine if those all happen within the Apple ecosystem, but unacceptable if they happen elsewhere. There is obviously a clear difference between Apple’s “personalization” and other’s “tracking”. We need everybody at the table and everyone working together.
Growing the big tent and tackling industry hypocrisy starts here.
My take: 🚨Ohhh now the gloves are off! This is an interesting attack on Apple because it looks and feels like the kind of shots (albeit more subtle) taken at Google before they finally joined the IAB. Notably, Apple is not an IAB member.
“Fixing the rotting at our core…” with the imagery of an Apple (the fruit) is 🤌🏻.
Jump to 3:30 in the Beet.tv interview below, where Cohen talks about the IAB’s position on Apple’s behavior.
Tech's incredible 20+ years of galloping growth, fueled by so much easy money, has run into the Fed raising interest rates to fight inflation. For the first time since the turn-of-the-millennium's dotcom bust, there are at scale layoffs and folks are hunkering down for uncertainty over the coming months.
My take: True, but also the headcount in most organizations is returning to pre-pandemic levels. Companies that did not go on a massive, outsized hiring spree are less likely to have mass layoffs. Hoarding engineers and other talent simply so that other companies could not hire them is turning out to be a costly bet.
The FTC, led by Chairwoman Lina Khan has claimed that digital advertising business models are “premised on or incentivize persistent tracking and surveillance”.
My take: Yeah man.
One need not look much further than GDPR, which was designed to reign in “Big Tech”. It actually had the opposite effect - punishing the small and mid-sized players. Making compliance so difficult that only the biggest companies could comply.
My take: Could not agree more.
Dark Money — funded by extremists on the left and right — are attacking our industry on both sides.
My take: Ok…but what kind of CPM’s this dark money clearing? (Asking for a friend) 🙈🤫😂
The problem is, it’s too loud outside this room.
Radicals on the left and right — abetted by giants like Apple and others with a vested interest in controlling the market — are out-spending and out-communicating us.
There's only one solution.
We have to tell the story of the good we have created for everyone everywhere - and we have to do everything in our power to make sure that message is seen and heard. It’s really up to us.
My take: Radicals! Listen, whether you agree or disagree with this kind of rhetoric, pay close attention to who is in the tent Cohen is talking about. Google, Meta, and The Trade Desk are “in the tent” as IAB members. Apple is not. We don’t hear that much about the industry challenges created by Facebook and Google. And we certainly did not hear a word about the Antitrust lawsuit that broke news the first day of the conference.
Apple has dealt a cruel blow to the millions of companies created off the backbone of the open internet, including thousands of small businesses and millions of income-earning creators.
Apple is anti-advertising in public, with sales of iPhones stagnating, privately Apple is pitching ads to everybody on Madison Avenue.
My take: Apple is not anti-advertising. They themselves are one of the greatest advertisers on the planet. And if you’ve paid attention over the last few years, you don’t find yourself getting incessantly retargeted by Apple ads…yet iPhones still get sold.
Apple’s aims to let them expand their advertising business while rewriting the rule book so the rest of the industry can’t compete.
Apple will try to smother the advertising industry just like they did to the recorded music industry. We can’t sit back and watch that happen.
Early in my tenure at IAB working alongside ANA, 4A’s and others the industry brought Apple to the table to discuss ATT before it was rolled out. They walked away early in the process and haven’t been back to our table since. A big tent necessitates all players coming together, hearing each other's perspectives and working collaboratively. The invitation to collaborate with the industry still stands, Apple.
My take: One of Apple’s greatest strengths is being patient. They are amazing at being the second or third company to enter a sector and then dominate. My question is, why do they “need” to be at the table to be successful? They invented the entire mobile app economy which every IAB member benefits from. They’ve clearly done the math that they can reset the part of the market they control just like every other walled garden to date.
It’s dangerous to be an incrementalist in this age of extremism. Extremists are trying to set the agenda. We must decide what we want this industry to be, lest it become decided for us.
My take: Let me rewrite this…
It’s dangerous to be an incrementalist in this age
of extremism. Extremists Non-IAB members are trying to set the agenda. We must decide what we want this industry to be, lest it become decided for us. [Amen]
Cohen took issue with Harvard sociologist Shoshan Zuboff’s term “Surveillance Capitalism” and all similar terms used to describe the ad-targeting marketplace. I’ve always thought it was a highly accurate description of the market despite my 16 years of active participation in precisely that!
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Advertisers are (and always have been) very interested in understanding what consumers like, want, and desire. Our industry build elegant tools to observe consumer behavior. We then monetize that technology and the behaviors it aggregates. So yeah, it is a pretty accurate term. Unfortunately, when you say it like that, it sounds super creepy.
Virtually none of the conversations in our industry, or at the IAB start with the idea of not surveilling consumers. Instead, we focus on doing so transparently, securely, and anonymously. We also aim to give people the tools to easily and persistently opt out (please don’t go!).
The whole business model relies on the industry being able to observe behavior quietly in the background.pointed out in that we've kinda had this coming. Our industry has been reliant upon self-governance since the '90s. Without realizing it, we've stumbled into areas with real consumer protection laws in place, and new ones are coming out every quarter.
I love the IAB. I’ve been involved in various committees on and off throughout the years. The ALM might be my favorite industry event every year.
I also love the spicy new approach David Cohen’s administration takes. I think it is a stark departure from the Randall Rothenberg days. I’m here for it!
However, if you’re going to dish out the words like “extremist” over a half dozen times in a speech, you gotta be ready to take some critiques from voices 100x louder than mine. In all honesty, I think that was Cohen’s goal all along.
Lobbing a few grenades certainly grabs attention and hopefully kickstarts a year of change.