This week Google has been replaced in the digital docks with adtech company, Rubicon Project, and this time it’s The Guardian throwing the rotten fruit.
For those that missed it, Rubicon Project is alleged to have failed to disclose earned fees in relation of Guardian inventory. Rubicon fiercely denies it, arguing it’s a contract dispute. But the Guardian doesn’t agree and is taking legal action. The angry mob is circling; the pitchforks are lit and the witch-hunt is on. I can’t see this one having a fairy-tale ending, can you?
Without knowing the ins and outs of this case it’s difficult to comment any further, but what is certain is that it’s not the last transparency dispute we’re going to see this year. Brands, vendors and agencies will be hitting the panic buttons and scrambling out their lawyers to check, double-check and triple-check the contract clauses they’ve all carelessly signed over the last few years. Since the Google ad fraud story broke in The Times, the floorboards covering these shady agreements are now being ripped up one-by-one and we’re all about to finally see what’s been festering underneath.
It can’t have been an easy decision for The Guardian to sacrifice itself as the first big player to hold its hands up and publicly acknowledge it’s been taken for a ride. I’m certain there are hundreds more publishers lying awake at night knowing they’re being scammed, but are keeping quiet for fear of ridicule. Now that one has come out the closet, inevitably the rest will follow.
It’s sad that this year’s trade press has so far been filled with scandals over successes. When your industry hits the front page of The Times, the issue obviously isn’t going away quickly, but that doesn’t mean that everything about your industry is broken. It’s not broken. As usual, it’s just the bad stuff is getting more headlines than the good stuff.
Think about a football referee. When the referee has a good game, he doesn’t get noticed, he doesn’t make the headlines and he doesn’t get shouted at by the managers. The game flows well and the crowd doesn’t complain. A digital campaign is like a football referee. When a campaign runs smoothly and without error it also hardly gets noticed, it doesn’t make the headlines and no one complains. Both buyer and seller (the managers) are happy and the users (the crowd) haven’t had their experience ruined. But when a referee does have a bad game he hits the headlines. And what we’re experiencing now in our industry is the equivalent of a refereeing match-fixing scandal. The bad referees are ruining it for the rest of us – those who want to play honestly, create great work and deliver great digital experiences. But the bad referees will always get found out. They will never win.
A line from IAB CMO James Chandler’s recent blog post stuck a chord with me – ‘Let’s never forget that the Internet is amazing’. He’s damn right about that. It’s important to remember what a great tool we’ve got at our fingertips and to not give up on our industry when we reach a bump in the road. This bump is arguably the biggest we’ve faced so far, but there’s enough good stuff going on to get us over it. It’s time for us all to take responsibility to push the good over the bad and the ugly, into a more honest, transparent and ultimately successful industry.
Don’t be blind to fraudulent practices. Stand up and do something about it. Or it’ll be you next in the docks.