“We continue to provide a compass on how to maximise the potential of this dynamic industry”

Helen Mussard is the Marketing Director of IAB Europe, the Europe-wide association for the digital marketing and advertising ecosystem. In addition to leading all marketing, communications and PR initiatives for IAB Europe, our interviewee manages IAB Europe’s industry committees to promote industry collaboration to provide industry frameworks, standards and programmes that enable businesses to thrive in the European marketplace. Helen Mussard joined IAB Europe from global AdTech company, Vibrant Media, where she was VP Global Marketing. Before joining Vibrant in New York, she lived in London and Berlin, working both agency and in-house for television channels, government organisations and digital start-ups. Learn all about it!

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IAB Europe is a European-level association for the digital marketing and advertising ecosystem. In order to familiarise our readers, what kind of services do you provide? 

IAB Europe represents national IABs, media, technology and marketing companies, leading political representation and industry collaboration in delivering frameworks, standards and programmes that enable the digital advertising business to thrive in the European market.

Our members span the entire digital advertising and marketing ecosystem, from publishers and advertising technology companies to agencies. This includes Adform, Google, Facebook, Xandr, RTL, The Trade Desk, Bloomberg, GroupM, Publicis, ProSieben, BBC Global News and many more. We also represent 27 national IABs across Europe such as IAB Portugal, The Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft (BVDW), IAB France, IAB UK, IAB Spain and IAB Poland.

We are a truly collaborative, membership-led organisation and are best known for creating industry frameworks such as the Transparency & Consent Framework (TCF), bringing together industry leaders in pan-European events such as Interact and providing economic insight into the current state and future of our industry via our State of the Nation forum.

What do you think of the evolution of the sector? Do you believe that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for companies to make large investments in marketing and digital advertising? If so, how has IAB Europe responded to this constant demand?

The pandemic brought forward digital innovation in business models due to a sudden shift in consumer behaviour, leading to exponential growth in e-commerce supported by digital advertising. For instance, digital advertising in Europe grew by 30.5% in 2021 – the highest growth since 2008.

Indeed, digital marketing and advertising will outperform other types of media in 2023 as brands look for measurable performance and the ability to rapidly react to changes in consumer confidence, interest rates and other factors impacting people’s ability to purchase goods and services. In fact, as companies cut costs and trim their business towards profitability in uncertain times, digitisation of processes plays a key role to drive efficiency. This creates a fertile ground for digital marketing.

Today, more than 60% of all advertising investments in Europe are digital. This means that digital media channels need to fulfill a vast range of marketing objectives, from lower funnel conversion to brand building. In a fragmenting internet and the rise of data and media silos, this becomes ever more complex. As an industry, we have to work even harder to show brands that their investment in digital is impactful.

This means increasing trust and transparency across the digital advertising supply chain and introducing new opportunities for brands that really connect with consumers, such as Connected TV, audio and gaming and other destinations where people spend time for media and commerce.

IAB Europe takes an active role in informing its members about the latest areas of strategic growth in the industry, and how to best activate scalable and engaging strategies. This includes publishing guides on new growth areas, as well as establishing working groups for European industry collaboration. For example, IAB Europe recently launched a new working group around Retail Media; a market that in 2021 was worth €7.9 billion and is expected to reach €25bn by 2026. A significant investment opportunity, this group has been created to enable collaborative conversations, provide education and insights and create recommendations to shape and define this new, exciting advertising space.

Digital advertising is changing rapidly, while the need for brands to connect with consumers and deliver impactful advertising grows ever more. We continue to provide a compass on how to maximise the potential of this dynamic industry.

Currently, the overall environmental impact of the internet is estimated to be 2% to 4%. Against this backdrop, IAB Europe recently created a Sustainability Standards Committee. In practical terms, what kind of work have you been developing in this space to make the advertising industry aware of sustainable practices? What other initiatives have you implemented for this cause?

As Europe experienced its hottest summer on record, 2022 made very clear that the time to cut CO2 emissions is now. Indeed, the digital ad industry is not an inconsiderable contributor to the climate crisis (one calculation suggests that the typical ad campaign emits around 5.4 tons of CO2). This is a result of the complex supply chain, with a large amount of energy consumed and emissions produced through the delivery of digital ads.

If the industry is to do its part to reduce this and help fight the climate crisis, sustainability needs to be viewed now as standard operating procedure. The industry needs to educate on, identify and enable significant efficiencies along the supply path. Thankfully, the sector is collaborating in this effort; the first step being to create harmonised sustainability standards and best practices, with specific focus on a consistent measurement framework and immediate action that all parties can take.

This is the goal of IAB Europe’s Sustainability Standards Committee. To bring better alignment across the industry through the creation of an action list which provides guidance and best practices that all market participants can adopt. This will help  drive education and understanding in the industry, and  ensure action is being taken.

We recently conducted a ‘State of Readiness’ survey, which shines a light on the progression of various sectors within our industry, towards developing sustainable practices. The result of the survey, which went to field on 25th November 2022, will help us to establish if members of our industry understand the impact that digital advertising has on the environment. We intend to use the results of the survey to create a ‘State of Readiness’ report that will help to drive the next steps of our planned deliverables. From this we plan to create defined actions to take for each entity in the supply chain, ensuring the sustainable delivery of digital advertising. This will then be shaped into practical standards which will help to reduce the carbon emissions produced by the delivery of digital ads.

The Digital Services Act was recently published in the Official Journal of the European Union, however, its changes will only be implemented in 2024. How do you rate this paradigm transition? What impacts will it have on marketing and advertising agencies across Europe?

IAB Europe welcomed the finalisation of the co-legislator’s work on the Digital Services Act (DSA). With the DSA being directly applicable across the European Union from 17 February 2024, the industry’s attention is rightly shifting to compliance.

As the European Commission and future national Digital Service Coordinators are in the process of shaping the DSA enforcement apparatus and designing the ensuing secondary legislation, stakeholder engagement will be critical. We have already declared our readiness to support industry players preparing to apply the DSA rules, and accordingly, have commenced a work track to ensure technical means to comply with Art. 26 transparency requirements.

The legal onus to deliver the DSA ads transparency is on entities defined under the law as ‘online platforms’, which could include social media networks, online marketplaces, app stores, online travel and accommodation sites, and content-sharing websites. However, in a complex supply chain, like that of the multi-sided online advertising industry, achieving compliance will require a joined-up approach and participation of all ecosystem players. Relevant information informing the DSA ads transparency will need to be transported from the buy to the sell-side, which is technically challenging.

IAB Europe aims to support member companies and the broader industry in ensuring technically feasible and sound approaches to supporting compliance exist. It is important for any industry approaches to be standardised and flexible, to cater to a variety of use cases and different ad business models.

On the same subject, in your opinion the legal changes provided for in the Digital Services Act, are sufficient to promote a more open digital market, but also for the online safety of consumers?

In the course of the policy and legislative discussions on the Digital Services Act (DSA), IAB Europe reaffirmed the industry’s commitment to maintaining transparency and quality across the digital advertising and marketing ecosystem, for all forms of trading. We continue our investment in industry-driven approaches and technical standards to generate said transparency and increase trust.

Any successful action in the digital ads ecosystem must be a collective effort shared by the whole supply chain, requiring investment from all parties involved: marketers, agencies, publishers and technology companies. Only then, the effect can be beneficial for the open market. Examples are plenty, with the Transparency & Consent Framework being one of them.

IAB Europe advocated for a DSA approach that would allow to empower users, preserving the possibility for them to make informed choices based on information disclosures – accessing some online content and services against payment and some against a willingness to receive advertisements, with all the user rights and company obligations that are already foreseen in EU privacy and data protection law. Further to its work with members, IAB Europe will remain invested in constructive dialogue with policymakers and regulators with a view to improving legal certainty and ensuring desired level of transparency for the users.

Directing the conversation to another topic. Today, we live in a society that is still questioning the equality of opportunities between men and women. Globally, the number of women in leadership positions is still small, although, over time, we are witnessing a paradigm shift. Taking into account that you are a woman and occupy a decision-making position, how has the position of women changed in your industry? 

As a professional who has had to overcome the barriers faced by women, in an industry that has been traditionally male-dominated, I have seen the sector come on leaps and bounds. This is a far cry from a decade ago, as women now have far more agency in promoting themselves, especially in negotiating pay.

More female leaders are shaping the industry in a big way through their unique vision and expertise. In my role as CMO, I have tried to hire and promote women whilst also inviting and celebrating the role that male allies have to play. While there is still work to be done, more collaboration between the genders and education will improve our industry significantly.

What strategies will define the future of IAB Europe? And how do you see market trends for the coming year before the implementation of the Digital Services Law?

As 2023 rolls on, we expect increased interest from businesses in joining up to standardised approaches, as company directors look to align and be compliant with the DSA by early 2024. At the same time, there’s a narrative that this paradigm of information and choice doesn’t hold up for digital advertising, as part of skepticism directed at the industry. While it is acceptable not to know what companies wrote for the software that is integrated into your car or TV, or be able to independently assess their reliability, it is unacceptable not to be able to make the same independent assessment about who can process your personal data for digital advertising.  Since users can’t make the ‘right’ choices, the law needs to make choices for them.

This narrative will continue to gain traction in 2023, and Brussels will come close to throwing out the baby with the bathwater on any one of a number of data-related proposals making their way through its legislative machine. However, as EU privacy regulators streamline cross-border enforcement and show greater convergence on policy guidance, and as a wider range of policymakers and ecosystem stakeholders focus on what is at stake, common sense will prevail and a renewed commitment to making information and choice work for everyone will likely emerge.