Physical supply chains have been a hot topic over the last year – from the logistical nightmare facing the Suez Canal to the limited availability of materials and components. The digital supply chain for the ad tech industry also came under scrutiny in a different way. Questions about transparency were front of mind for advertisers. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, before diving into this discussion, we must define what we mean by “transparency” within the context of programmatic advertising.

There are three key areas advertisers consider when deciding where to place advertisements. These are: ad fraud, brand safety, and the ability to control, manage and optimise live ads. A lack of transparency in any of these areas damages advertiser trust – they don’t know what they’re buying, where they’re buying it from, and don’t have the data to inform their strategies. Programmatic advertising requires end-to-end visibility and data to build trust and generate the most efficient buying decisions.

What are the key benefits of transparency to advertisers? 

An effective advertising strategy relies on access to insights on the effectiveness of the ad placement. Armed with this data, the approach can then be tweaked and reassessed. Implementing this data-led course correction allows for flexibility and agile responses, based on solid feedback. 

However, not all data is valued equally, and advertisers prioritise certain factors over others. For example, buying information from the ad exchange – including intended websites and apps and direct and indirect relationships – can provide a degree of reassurance. Insights into pricing can also help advertisers measure the return on investment (ROI) and flag unanticipated costs. 

In the same vein, access to campaign management tools and optimisation levers can be critical to making better buying decisions and extracting optimal outcomes from media spend. In terms of the wider benefits, data from demand-side platforms (DSPs) can be fed back to business intelligence units on the advertiser side, helping to assess and predict the impact of future ad spend. 

What about data privacy? 

Before data can be fed back to advertisers, it’s critical to be clear about the circumstances under which it was collected and shared. Data privacy remains a key industry issue, especially when it comes to third party data. Asking the following questions would help provide clarity:

  • Has a user given explicit consent to share this data?
  • Has Personally Identifiable Information (PII) been passed correctly within the legal requirements of each country/region?
  • For third-party data, it’s important to know:
  • Is there consent to use this person’s data?
  • How old is the data? 
  • Is this accurate and up-to-date?
  • How can a user opt-out of their data being processed on a third party platform?

This helps advertisers avoid sticky situations when it comes to the legitimacy of insights they use to inform current and future decisions. End users are only becoming more aware of their privacy rights and failure to get this right could have financial and reputational consequences. 

Industry bodies provide a framework to support

It can be difficult for advertisers to navigate the ‘wild west’ of programmatic advertising. Although no legislation exists to enforce transparency, industry bodies such as the IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau) and TAG (Trustworthy Accountability Group) have provided certifications and standards as key guidance. The aim of these is to increase brand safety and trust, mitigate ad fraud and provide reassurance to advertisers before an investment decision is made. In addition, initiatives such as Authorised Digital Sellers (Ads.txt/app-ads.txt, seller.json and supply chain object) help prove the legitimacy of sites and apps.

Trade bodies have contributed to moving the industry forward and addressing the issues with transparency. But it should be noted that these are not panaceas. In addition, there needs to be a commitment to transparency from all parties involved, to ensure this type of approach is universal. 

How do we build transparency into programmatic advertising? 

It’s clear that the Open MarketPlace (OMP) programmatic advertising buying model can be a black box of activity with little regulation and guard rails in place. One of the ways forward is to work with fully transparent DSPs that will enable advertisers to leverage the scale and flexibility of OMPs while monitoring activity. 

To provide further reassurance to both advertisers and publishers, there are a few options which help make this possible:

  • Curated marketplaces: custom built contextual programmatic environments that address specific advertiser requirements.
  • Programmatic marketplace (PMP): access to these must be approved by exchanges and      advertisers/sellers can be selected. This goes a long way to help minimise fraud. Also, the exclusivity tends to encourage a higher quality of inventory to improve brand safety, contextual targeting, inclusion/exclusion and ultimately better Return on Ad Spend (ROAS).
  • Advanced programmatic advertising such as ‘header bidding’: this improves transparency by providing a level playing field where DSPs are closer to the publishers. It also removes the outdated waterfall and other opaque solutions.

What does the future hold? 

Efforts to improve programmatic advertising will pay dividends for advertisers. They will benefit from better exposure to the right audiences and insights on how to improve their strategies using data.  

Transparency is a key part of this, and advertisers must be certain that they have a full picture of where their ads will appear – especially in terms of brand safety, preventing ad fraud, ensuring the relevance of audiences and the quality of data.

Looking to the future, new approaches are emerging. More brands will start to position themselves as publishers and offer advertising on their own digital real estate. The emerging retail media opportunity is an interesting industry development and these sites could end up competing with ad exchanges. These brands have an established brand safe environment, the ability to provide first party data and a ready-made relevant audience. Secondly, the move by The Trade Desk to work directly with publishers via its OpenPath solution offers another data point into how the programmatic advertising ecosystem may shift to address the transparency challenge.