In a period where data-driven practices dominated conversation, 2015 will be remembered as the year programmatic shook the entire marketing ecosystem by turning transparency on its head and making marketers reconsider their ways of working.

Here is how the action unfolded…

The value of transparency 

Brands this year somewhat redefined what they expect from their agencies, with transparency being on the top of their lists. 

A renewed vigour and desire for a more transparent agency dynamic, in terms of pricing, practice and performance is, amongst other things, what stirred up this year’s storm of agency reviews. The shift in spend towards not just digital but programmatic in itself has now become so significant that marketers have become more diligent about knowing what their partners are doing with their money and data, and agencies are facing no choice but to shape up.

But this level of transparency needs to extend not just to agencies but to the adtech platforms they are in partnership with. 

Going into 2016, marketers should feel confident in demanding transparency as the default approach with all partners, especially as they look to reclaim their hold on their data. Marketers should for example be able to choose which data they want to use for audience targeting based on the level of risk and disclosure.

Quality must come first

The rapid growth of ad tech in 2015 and the steep learning curve the industry continues to experience shed new light on persistent programmatic challenges. The issues of ad fraud, viewability and brand safety have all called into question how inversely proportionate the relationship between transparency and technology has actually become. 

The expansion of media channels and automated marketing are making it more challenging for brands to know with absolute certainty where their ads appear, putting reputations at risk. Agencies and platforms have an important role to play by safeguarding their clients, making sure messages appear alongside content that fits a brand’s values.

This year saw a renewed focus on quality inventory in order to combat the issues that have plagued us this year. There is an increasing amount of premium inventory available in private marketplaces and the industry is on the right path to make fraud-free, brand safe, viewable inventory the standard across channels such as display, mobile and video. 

Initiatives such as the IAB Believes, which identifies the five biggest issues facing digital advertising today, throw the gauntlet at the industry to collaborate and tackle them. 

IAB UK CEO Guy Phillipson this summer predicted that in 12 months’ time, issues such as viewability, ad fraud and brand safety will be simple, straightforward hygiene factors for display advertising, provided we follow guidelines set by groups such as the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards and the Digital Trading Standards Group.

It’s important to take the initiative and help advertisers build trust in programmatic marketing, rather than continuing to point the finger at the player that happens to sit next to you in the ecosystem. Whomever you believe to be at fault, the reality is that arguing the point distracts us all from working towards solutions that are mutually beneficial for brands, agencies and consumers. 

From marketers to tech champions

As the role of the marketer continues to evolve from the guardian of creative manifestation to the champion of data driven-efficiency, transparency will not be scaling back in terms of a priority any time soon – especially if a CMO transforms into a chief marketing technologist (CMT), as our research earlier this year indicates. 

DataXu’s report “The New Marketer” from earlier this year shows that technology and techniques like programmatic will shape what marketing departments will look like in the not-so-distant future. 

Over two-thirds (70%) of UK marketers in our survey predicted that more brands will be recruiting a Chief Marketing Technologist in the next five years. Over one-third (35%) of them went further, saying that the traditional Chief Marketing Officer role as we know it will be replaced by a Chief Marketing Technologist as head of marketing in the years to come. With marketers’ tech proficiency increasing, agencies will need to over-index in the transparency stakes if they wish to remain a strong part of the value equation.