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Interact 2018: CEO IAB Randall Rothenberg answers questions from IAB Europe ahead of his keynote on 24 May

Held in Milan on 23-24 May, IAB Europe’s Annual 2-day conference Interact 2018 will feature contributions from all stakeholders with a say in the future of the digital ecosystem, from advertisers to publishers, to ad tech businesses, politicians and regulators. Together they’ll examine the forces disrupting digital, how businesses can adapt to thrive, and how we can reinvent the digital ecosystem to provide a firm foundation for business growth in the future.

Ahead of his keynote speech at Interact 2018,  Randall Rothenberg, CEO, Interactive Advertising Bureau answered questions from IAB Europe Read more:

IAB Europe: You released results from the study “The Rise of the 21st century brand economy” at the IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting at the beginning of this year.  Now that people have had a chance to review this, what has been the response, from brands, IAB members and industry to the findings?

Randall Rothenberg: We had the sense that this was groundbreaking research, but I’ve now had the experience of presenting the study to a dozen or so of the world’s largest consumer brands and, to a woman and to a man, the executives all nod their heads and say it definitely reflects the new competitive dynamics in their industry – whatever their industry happens to be. The “direct brands” themselves – the upstarts that are successfully exploiting open-source supply chains and direct consumer connectivity to sell their goods and services – are excited by it. For most publishers, though, it is new news that the way brands are born, grow, and die is evolving.

IAB Europe:  You’ve taken fire at the industry jargon of the terms “sell-side” and “buy-side” – and challenged brands to acknowledge the importance of first-party data to their relationship with their own consumers.  You even made the stand, that without trust in the brand, there’s no data and no data means no company. Have you found that brands are taking more control of their data as a result?

Randall Rothenberg: Many of the “direct brands” optimize their messages, their strategies, even their product mixes at a rate that would make a brand manager from 1990’s head spin. This agility is, of course, fueled by first party data. Are all brands utilizing this data? Of course not. But many of the best big brands are – or, at least, they recognize they must. When done correctly, this data can build long-term relationships and trust between brands and consumers. It also builds loyalty, repeat customers, and dedicated brand advocates. Every company has at least one “data” deck. We, at IAB, are teaching and training brands and publishers how to be more responsibly data-centric and compete in this new economic frontier.

IAB Europe: On a simplistic level if IAB is extolling the virtues of brands taking charge of interacting directly with consumers (and disengaging from the capital-intensive supply chain) – what role do publishers, ad-tech companies and the whole digital eco-system have to play in this new “vertical commerce” world?

Randall Rothenberg: While we see a general blurring of lines that were established in the last century, with publishers transacting commerce on their platforms and brands publishing proprietary content, brands will rely upon their first-party data to increase their understanding of their customer. This view is innately limited, though. And that’s where publishers, agencies, researchers and creatives all can help these brands by delivering dimension to the picture. This customer is a person who exists beyond his or her relationship with the brand, and publishers can deliver the total customer, with depth, breadth and context.

Equally important, the new class of “direct brands” are very focused on story-telling, for great stories, well told, centered around their passions and missions are differentiating. And publishers are the world’s experts on story-telling. Their stories, crafted by wonderful writers, photographers, illustrators, investigators, and editors, will continue to introduce brands and their promise to consumers, and provide pathways for consumers to discover brands. The publishing marketplace, while changing, will not go away because of direct relationships, but it will change.

IAB Europe: Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at Procter & Gamble opened the IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting last year and called out the greater need for transparency of digital advertising platforms (something the IAB has been championing globally).  This year, Pritchard is reported as saying this movement is 80% complete.  Has it disappointed or encouraged you that it has taken the likes of advertising leaders (including Keith Weed at Unilever) to get the digital industry to take these issues seriously?

Randall Rothenberg: I don’t think it was the digital publishing or technology industry that was the real audience for those presentations; it was other brand leaders. Because brands had a long history of kicking the mechanics of their advertising creation, procurement, pricing, placement, and optimization to their ad agencies, they remained technologically inadept for a very long time, and unable to work the details of the digital revolution themselves. Having executives of the stature of Pritchard and Weed put visible stakes in the ground around sets of best practices provided permission for other brands to follow suit. And with the brands providing consistent roadmaps, both publishers and tech companies now have clearer paths to follow – paths, by the way, that were carved and illuminated by IAB.

IAB Europe: What is your message to IAB members and indeed the digital advertising community in this new advertising world?

Randall Rothenberg: First, it’s not so new anymore. It’s 25 years since the introduction of the Mosaic browser kicked off the Internet era, so companies ought to be accustomed to the elements of this disruption by now. And the fundamentals are incredibly exciting. Suddenly our economy is not constrained by capital, by proximity, by supply chain accessibility. Brilliant ideas can flourish today in a way that was never ever possible. Risk taking isn’t as risky. Scale can come in stages. Success at a level that took hundreds of people years of work and millions of dollars is available without any of those hurdles. Whether at a publisher, a brand or an agency, if you have an idea, chase it. This is the time. The opportunity has never been better.

IAB Europe: What keeps you awake at night?

Randall Rothenberg: Usually this question refers to worries, concerns, fears. But right now, when I look at my phone and see it’s beyond midnight, it’s because my mind has been racing with the possibilities. Creative kids are making music and movies, and becoming superstars without the intervention of giant cultural gatekeepers. A generation of women CEOs are creating new brands of clothing, shoes, toothpastes, educational tools, health care products, and more with a couple of searches and clicks.  I talk to a lot of people, and the feeling I get from almost all of them is optimism and hope. For all the discussion and noise about Fake News and the lack of diversified voices on some platforms, I see the internet delivering empathy and understanding across lines (geographic/economic/religious) like never before. This is such an exciting time to be alive and to be a part of this incredible revolution. There is so much good to be done, so many changes in the way brands and consumers interact, so many things that we haven’t even thought of yet. It’s not worry or fear that has me up at night, it’s view to the horizon that seems to go on forever.


Join us at INTERACT 2018 in Milan on 23-24 May 2018! 

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