• James Diba

We need to build trust, not education, in online advertising

by James Diba, Client Operations Director at TPA Digital

People trust banks and they don’t need to be educated about what exactly they do with our money. How we pay for online media with advertising should be the same.

“We need to better educate the consumer about cookies and how they’re used in digital advertising”

How many times have you heard this, or iterations of it?!

Over the years I’ve grown increasingly frustrated every time I hear it. Quite frankly, to me, it’s a complete self-serving narrative that the industry loves to fall back on as an excuse for lazy and outdated practices.

We need to stop blaming the general public for not understanding technically how cookies work and how they’re used in advertising. They shouldn’t need to know.

To outline why I feel this way, I wanted to look outwards and toward another industry, one outside of our own rose-tinted lenses that we all seem happy to wear in advertising.


Consider your use of your everyday banking provider. When you hand your hard-earned money over to them, do you understand exactly what they’re going to be doing with your money? How and where they’re going to invest it? How do they make money from it? How much money do they make from it? Does it even cross your mind to consider why (in most cases) banking is provided free of charge to the consumer?


I’d wager that, for the vast majority of people outside of the finance industry, the answer to these questions is no.

The reason? People trust banks. They trust the strict regulation and legal frameworks that are in place. They trust, in large part, the establishments that they bank with.

As a consumer, I shouldn’t need to know exactly what the bank is doing with my money. All I want to be assured is that my money is safe, I can access it or remove it whenever I need it, and that it’s secure and is used in a legally compliant way.


Additionally, do I question the fact that banks make money out of my money? Again no, because I understand the value that the bank provides to me via a free service and I’m happy with that value exchange.

Bringing it back to advertising, the average consumer should not need to be educated on or to know the technical intricacies of how cookies are set, and used, whether they’re good or bad, and how they can be passed between parties. They should just need to know that what is being done with cookies is safe, legal and can be accessed or removed whenever required.


The future of the open web is at stake

So how do we actually build trust in digital advertising?

Ultimately this has to come down to better frameworks, better regulation (which is more easily enabled and enforced via better frameworks), harsher punishments for bad actors, and less creepy use of ‘stalker’ type advertising tactics.


Within these frameworks we also need the industry to play its part. If I circle back quickly to the banking example, modern developments such as open banking mean that different parties can share very sensitive information with one another, but of course, this is not done without explicit consent. It’s enforceable via regulation and auditable via robust frameworks.


The recent news surrounding the transparency and consent framework is a prime example of how players in the advertising industry often misuse frameworks to the detriment of the entire industry.

Just because a framework technically allows something to happen (and I’m not saying the TCF doesn’t have any safety flaws which need to be addressed), it doesn’t mean that it should happen unless there is explicit and legal consent provided.

I wouldn’t want to understate the difficulty of implementing and adhering to frameworks and legislation, particularly given the global nature of digital advertising. We’re seeing many different forms of legislation being released across territories and this means that companies who are operating on a global level need to ensure their compliance is relevant to the locations in which the audiences they’re reaching are based.

Ultimately, consumers are only becoming more and more digitally savvy and now is a crucial time to get this right in order to support the longevity and efficacy of digital advertising.

There is too much at stake in regards to the future of the open Internet to get this wrong.