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Platforms and transparency

The digital platforms cannot be members of the WFA but we do work with them when it delivers benefits to brands and society. CEO Stephan Loerke explains how and where that happens.


Digital media is a big deal when it comes to advertising. In 2019 it surpassed 50% of total ad spend worldwide for the first time.

In 2020 analysis suggests that it will take an even larger share, with brands and consumers doubling down on digital during the pandemic. Google and Facebook are a big part of the market, estimated to take more than 75% of digital ad spend worldwide. 

The big platforms have become big players in today’s ad industry, alongside our legacy partners such as agencies, TV broadcasters and newspapers and more. The big difference is scale, given that the platforms operate globally where many media owners are focused on one or two markets.

On some issues, our interests are fully aligned, like when it comes to protecting our ability to advertise responsibly for brands in food, alcohol and OTC categories, for example.

On others, we can sometimes find ourselves on opposite sides of the debate. Brand owners are keen to tear down the walled gardens, we demand access to data and we want that data to be independently audited. We are making progress but we are not yet where we need to be.

In most areas, however, we have a shared interest in advancing the industry’s agenda and we do work collaboratively. The most recent example of this is our push to develop a global cross-media measurement system that enables brands to make informed decisions in media planning and buying while also respecting consumer privacy.

What matters for our members and all the other groups we deal with is that the relationships we have with these companies is free from conflicts of interests.

In the interests of transparency there are three key areas that are relevant:

Financial support: Neither Google nor Facebook are entitled to join the WFA membership. Although they are among the world’s most valuable brands and advertisers in their own right, they do not qualify for WFA membership because the overwhelming portion of their revenues is generated from selling ads to brand-owners.

As with other industry advertising players, however, they are welcome to sponsor WFA conferences and both will be among the sponsors of our Global Marketer Week 2021. Given that Google and Facebook are important stakeholders in the ad industry, they will also be called upon to contribute, including financially, their fair share to set up and run critical cross-industry infrastructure projects such as  the European Advertising Standards Alliance, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) and the Global Framework for Cross-Media Measurement.

Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM): GARM is a WFA-led initiative to fight the proliferation of harmful content on digital platforms. It is a cross-industry effort established to agree standards, metrics, third-party auditing requirements and build adjacency tools that operate across platforms, agency holding groups and the brand-owners. It is led by a GARM Steering Team that is composed of advertiser representatives and two agency representatives.  It has an annual budget in 2021 of approximately €420,000 that is funded by advertisers (roughly €200k), agency holding companies (roughly €100k) and platforms, including Google and Facebook, contributing about €150k.

The WFA Blueprint for cross-media measurement: The initiative has been launched and is driven by the WFA Global Media Board – which is composed of the Global Heads of Media of 16 of the world’s largest advertisers. It has an annual budget in 2021 of €300,000. We are still in the process of raising the funds and aim to secure contributions from a variety of partners. We plan to raise €100k from brand owners, with a significant contribution from Google and Facebook. We are also in discussions with broadcasters.

At the WFA, our agenda is informed and driven by brand owners, no one else and without fear or favour. In delivering that agenda we will collaborate with partners across the ad industry, including of course Google and Facebook (and indeed outside the industry). The acid test for these collaborations is that the end objective is better marketing. That means marketing that delivers simultaneously better outcomes for brands, people and society at large.

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