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Truth, Technology, and Media: A Shared Responsibility

I did not expect an advertising conference to be the forum for the most civil and least self-involved conversations about recent politics. I would normally think that politics should be avoided in this kind of setting. So when I walked into one of the cocktail parties at the IAB Leadership Conference, I prepared to smile through endless business pitches where people are more interested in talking than listening.

But this time the conversations ran deeper. Marc Pritchard of Proctor & Gamble had already set the tone by demanding a more transparent media supply chain and a stop to fraud. His message could have come across preachy or polarizing, but it had the opposite effect. It got individuals talking about their own roles in media and how to restore integrity. The attendees ranged from large publishers, to ad tech engineers, to print coupon suppliers, to social media networks. We soon realized that we were all members of the media in different capacities, and our collective group included republicans, democrats, women, and men.

Although politics entered the discussion, everyone listened and contributed in a highly respectful manner. We were more interested in how to work together in an industry that has so many complicated moving parts than we were in being right. The talk was genuine, and ultimately, our conversations revolved around how we can learn from each other. Not just in advertising, but in varying political beliefs.

We came to the conclusion that we must each keep our individual roles in media honest to reach any kind of media trust. For example, one of the most interesting conversations for me involved advancing text-to-video technology providers. With my background in drafting corporate scripts and managing the production of corporate videos, this fascinated me. What if when I had this role at Apple, I had been able to edit someone’s speech in their voice with a few keystrokes after the shoot? What if I could have typed something the speakers never said in the original take and the audio would make it sound as if they had really said it? That would have cut weeks of labor out of past projects. The more efficient workflow would have saved a lot of budget and frustration. But I did not have that ability. Instead, I relied on the words actually spoken.

If I have access to text-to-video technology with clients moving forward, I would take the ethics seriously. It would be my responsibility to keep the message and tone the same as the originally agreed upon shoot. Maybe I could tighten up a few words with text editing rather than do a full reshoot, but that sort of capability must require high standards of integrity.

Everyone I had the pleasure of meeting at the IAB Leadership conference had the same ethics in their respective fields. Brands only want to advertise with publishers that fight fraud. Publishers want to provide high-quality content. Ad creatives (some with Hollywood studio backgrounds) want to deliver engaging experiences that consumers won't want to block. Ad tech wants to ensure that the creative works on all devices which is no easy task. Adopting one viewability standard presents big challenges, especially on mobile. It will take time to get it right. But P&G's push is valid and will hopefully get players moving in the right direction.

With all the talk of fraud, I did not come across one person at the IAB conference who seemed remotely interested in deceiving anyone. This is where I discovered the real truth in advertising. We all want to do our jobs well. We all need each other to succeed. Audiences want quality content, and advertisers help fund its creation and delivery. Advertisers know that they wouldn't exist without consumers. My message to consumers is that we hear you and want to deliver the best digital experience we can.

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