Alain Heureux is president and CEO of IAB Europe, the trade association promoting the growth of interactive marketing in Europe. He spoke to CMO.com Europe recently, and the first thing I asked him was how he would describe the situation around EU regulation of digital marketing.
We’re now two to three years into the implementation of the cookie directive, and the regulators are seeing how complicated it is. It should have been deployed by May 2011 and we’re now in November 2012 and not all countries have deployed it. And it’s been interpreted differently in the countries where it has been deployed. In most countries, the term consent has been interpreted in a very open way, but in the two countries - The Netherlands and Croatia - they’ve adopted much stricter interpretations. The Dutch are preparing to be compliant with a strict requirement for “explicit and prior consent” by January 2013, and we don’t know whether this will be a good or a bad thing. Either the business will adapt, or we’ll have to revise the Dutch law. So there’s an important lesson there for the regulators, that this situation is very complex.
There’s also an important lesson for us, because the cookie directive wasn’t originally about the advertising industry, it was about the telecoms industry. People were talking about the problem back in 2006, and IAB Europe was created in 2008, but that was too late.
How does this fit into the broader regulatory picture?
We’re at the beginning of a long journey. The Data Protection Directive, which is currently under discussion, will be the umbrella legislation across digital, and leadership of that has been given to a German Green MEP. The text we’ve seen so far is neutral, but the Green view of privacy tends to be very restrictive, so it’ll be an interesting 12 months working on this with him.
We can’t avoid having laws, but we need to make sure we have good laws. And we want this to be a regulation, rather than a directive, so that there’s no interpretation at a national level, as there was with the cookie directive.
After data protection will come piracy, competition and many others.
How does industry self-regulation work in this world?
Self-regulation is complementary, it can soften the impact of the law, but it’s never a way to avoid the law. What the regulators are looking for at bottom is quite right; they want transparency, choice and control for the consumer, and what we’re doing through self-regulation is fulfilling part of those principles. But if they see us fail, they may want to take back some principles in the law.
So what does pan-European self-regulation look like?
In 1992 we set up the EASA (European Advertising Standards Alliance), which looks at ethics in communication. Now we have set up the EDAA (European Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance), which is the first step to show the regulators that we can self-regulate in digital advertising around the way we deliver the message.
The need for self-regulation has also helped to drive the IAB project in Europe, because the European Commission was saying there needs to be a body responsible for self-regulation in all the different countries. We’re now in 28 markets, the most recent being Macedonia, supporting professional local trade associations, encouraging them to share research, ideas and best practices and to help each other.
What other challenges are there for IAB Europe?
We’re at the point where the question is less “why digital?” and more often “how?” We still need to confirm the why through research, but more and more people are asking how. Buying, selling and measurement are still not as organised as advertisers would like them to be. Metrics need to be agreed and made much easier, and made comparable both across different screens and with traditional media.
The frustration is that we need more action in Europe at the CEO level. These issues around digital are talked about much more at CEO level in the US. We need to put our challenges on the agenda of CEOs, so that we can properly organise the European digital industry.
I was very glad to see our US colleagues launch the Make Measurement Make Sense project, but I was disappointed that Europe was not more integrated in their thoughts, rather than being involved later, because that won’t lead to harmonisation. More talking between the two continents would help grow the European industry, improve harmonisation across the world, and would help bring a fair share of revenue to the US, as so many of the big players on our market are from there.
I’m a big defender of harmonisation, but we in Europe need to take our destiny more into our own hands. Is the vision for Europe to be digital consumers or digital producers? We’ve managed the first, but the second is a major concern. Sitting between China and the US, not to mention India, our role should be more than just consuming, or I don’t know what the future will be for Europe.