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IAB UK: Online advertising is like the Wild West… but not in the way you might think

3 min read

The idea that online advertising is a wholly unregulated market is a myth. As we continue to develop self-regulation, IAB UK is committed to reducing fraud, increasing brand safety and improving the digital advertising experience for consumers 

The world of online advertising is regularly compared to the Wild West, and there is some truth in the analogy. Like the Wild West, digital advertising is a new frontier offering tremendous opportunity, with new communities being created and fresh innovations waiting to be realised.

Where the comparison falters, though, is in the idea that there is zero regulation whatsoever online. The internet is (relatively) new, so it presents new challenges for regulation. But the idea, promoted by some, that online advertising is currently unregulated is simply false.

Most websites and services that don’t charge people to use them, from news sites to journey planners, are funded by advertising. That advertising is regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in exactly the same way – and to exactly the same level – as all other non-broadcast advertising, such as in print, on billboards or at the cinema.

Clear codes exist to ensure advertising is not harmful, misleading or offensive, and the ASA enforces these diligently; requiring ads that breach the codes to be changed or withdrawn, or referring advertisers to other bodies such as Trading Standards where necessary. The exception to this rule is political advertising which, while banned entirely on TV or radio, is not subject to any equivalent regulation, whether online or offline.

This system of self-regulation, funded by industry and recognised as effective by government, has a strong history of developing and adapting quickly to new challenges created by emerging technologies and advertising formats.

A lack of understanding around how digital advertising works has led to a growing atmosphere of mistrust, but it is firmly in the industry’s interest to be operating in a responsible and sustainable fashion: if it doesn’t, it risks brands losing faith in it and choosing to promote their services or products elsewhere.

This is why IAB UK, the trade association for the digital advertising industry, created our Gold Standard last year. The initiative is a kitemark for best practice in online advertising, committing those certified for it to abide by specific measures designed to improve the digital advertising experience for individuals, reduce ad fraud and increase brand safety.

With over 100 companies signed up so far, the Gold Standard is a clear statement from an industry that contributed £11.5bn to the UK economy last year that it believes in operating responsibly as well as effectively.

Assertions that online advertising is wholly unregulated may be a myth, but the sector fully recognises that its work is not finished. We need to continue to develop self-regulation – with government support – to ensure the sustainability of the ad-funded internet that everyone can benefit from.

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) UK is the trade association for digital advertising, representing over 1,200 of the UK's leading brands, media owners, technology providers and agencies. Learn more about our Gold Standard.

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