Whether the scalability of ad buying or sourcing accurate data on ad exposure, questions being asked around brand safety and ad fraud in programmatic advertising are ongoing in addition to emerging tech of blockchain and machine learning that continue to make advancements within the industry. All these things and more highlight the important of ‘quality’ and how this essential in the programmatic industry in order for all parties involved to flourish.

With 2019’s predictions coming in, PerformanceIN chats to OpenX VP of Europe, Partner Services, Gavin Stirrat to discuss why the ‘quality’ of programmatic continues to be a growing problem and how it standards should be raised over the next 12 months.

‘Quality’ remains one of the most popular topics in the programmatic industry – why are we still talking about it?

Gavin Stirrat: Quality is still top of the agenda because without solving it, programmatic advertising is unable to reach its full potential. Programmatic advertising accounts for the majority of digital display ad spend today and we are only at the very beginning of what automation technology can do for the advertising industry as a whole. Ultimately programmatic technology will power every type of advertising, from TV and out-of-home advertising to in-car and virtual or augmented reality experiences, but this can only happen once the industry can earn the absolute trust of the brands and publishers who participate and invest in it.  

How big is the problem — and what are the common reasons for its persistence?

GS: The impact of quality concerns on revenue and marketer confidence is sizeable; particularly when it comes to programmatic advertising. Research from late last year showed that one third of CMOs are avoiding programmatic due to mistrust and confusion. It is estimated that ad fraud and poor quality ads will cost advertisers $10.9 billion (£8.21 billion) in wasted ad spend by 2021, and that’s not even counting the other areas of concern, such as hidden fees or shady auction mechanics.
This is partly due to the initial wave of enthusiasm for programmatic, which created a vast and complex supply chain that fostered the development of a crowded environment where bad actors could thrive. The current landscape is changing as the market matures and consolidates, but there is more work to be done. Bad actors are continually looking for workarounds, and the industry must engage in a continuous arms race to stay ahead. And, while we often think of fraudsters as the bad actors involved in illegal activities, there are also legitimate players in the ecosystem who are out to benefit themselves rather than the brands or publishers they work with, by employing opaque auction mechanics or gaming the system in other ways, and they need to be stopped.
In addition, brands and publishers have little recourse when something goes wrong. There aren’t currently any practices among industry groups that both monitor and enforce standards to hold providers accountable when quality issues are discovered. However, there are some notable achievements from the last couple of years, including the widespread adoption of the IAB’s ads.txt protocol and the growth of industry associations dedicated to quality, such as the Trustworthy Accountability Group, the IAB’s Gold Standard and the Coalition for Better Ads. 

To continue in the right direction, though, there needs to be both an industry-wide agreement on standards in key areas such as ad formats, traffic quality, and auction mechanics, and on how those standards will be enforced. Brands need a reliable and robust framework to be able to hold their partners accountable to those universal standards.

What is OpenX doing to raise quality standards?

GS: There’s only so much OpenX can achieve alone; the whole industry needs to get behind quality. So, we’ve taken the step of uniting with leading exchanges across the industry to create and adopt a framework of commitments that promote clarity and trust across the market, and that will ultimately lead to the formation and adoption of an industry-accepted certification that validates those commitments. Together with Rubicon Project, PubMatic, Sovrn, SpotX and Telaria, we established the Programmatic Principles based on three main elements: Efficiency to reduce transaction costs by eliminating waste and fraud, Transparency to establish clear business practices and maintain trust, and Fair-Market principles to set ground rules that balance the objectives of all participants.  

These principles have now been delivered to the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and are being developed into a new global framework for certification. In the meantime, however, brands and advertisers can take these principles now and begin enforcing them in their contracts throughout their supply chain to begin having an immediate impact on quality. 

How do you see the Programmatic Principles shaping the industry conversation around trust and transparency?

GS: Buyers and publishers alike demand a fair, transparent and verifiable programmatic marketplace but so far it has been unclear what that looks like. The Programmatic Principles provides a starting set of guidelines that gives those in the industry a specific framework to look to as they think about trust and transparency, marketplace and auction operation and streamlining the supply chain to ensure quality and value for buyers and sellers.  
Our goal is to create a set of rules that are unambiguous. This is about unlocking the full potential of programmatic, and our hope is that this will be a true industry-wide effort where everyone from leading exchanges to the IAB can help take it to the next level. Brand marketers are already having conversations around trust and transparency, and our hope is that these principles will give them a very clear set of rules they can expect their partners to follow. 

What does the programmatic landscape look like in 6 – 12 months – will the quality problem finally be solved? 

GS: The new Programmatic Principles framework we’ve collaborated on offers a starting point for all players in the ecosystem looking for a better way to select trustworthy technology partners. Over the coming weeks, the framework will serve as a document all members of the programmatic industry can review and debate openly to ensure their feedback is incorporated into TAG’s development of a certification and validation program around it. The exact timeline for that is still being worked out, but we think that getting the initial commitment from multiple exchanges is a great start, and we expect that collaborating on these foundational principles will make a sizeable impact over time.