Transparency: Digital Marketing Must Walk The Walk (As Well As Talk The Talk)

16 Jul, 2021

Digital Marketing has long faced ongoing issues around transparency. Adform's Philip Acton discusses how the industry can go beyond rhetoric and into action.

The ad industry operates in a state of perpetual change, adjusting to data-driven and technology-enabled innovations. At the same time, the adtech supply chain that underpins these changes is subject to behaviours that do not always embody the trust and transparency that we would all like to see.

Programmatic for example, has faced ongoing transparency issues for the past 15 years with the recent ISBA study demonstrating how much room for error its opacity leaves. And although moves have been made – such as the unified transparency framework – to help resolve this problem, more must be done to continue building a safer and reliable ecosystem.

Establishing a fairer first-party world

Transparency tends to be primarily viewed from a financial perspective, focusing on how ad spend travels and whether budgets are received by the intended media owners. But while important to safeguard investment and revenue, this is just one part of its definition.

As highlighted by the ISBA study, another core aspect of transparency is data accessibility: of the 267 million impressions analysed – paid for by brands to be served on publishers’ websites – only 12% could be accounted for as the data was either logged in a way that made it impossible to match or was simply not there. In the complex programmatic landscape, this fragmentation restricts data access by making ad matching and audience syncing challenging.

Big technology companies must go further in delivering more transparent trading mechanisms and understand that initiatives such as the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) still need work, with some arguing FLoC has yet to meet consumer demands for privacy. Marketers also need to keep harnessing solutions based on first-party IDs that place advertisers and publishers at the head of the supply chain.

Where third-party cookies have meant working with little insight and imbalanced models, the first-party ecosystem will offer the ability to buy, sell, target and track in a fair and transparent way, with impressions fully traceable from end to end. Publishers have shown they are primed for a cookieless world, with 93% in the UK already passing first-party IDs in the bidstream: now it’s time for CMOs to help accelerate this change. 

Driving the change buyers want to see

The greatest digital changemakers are not technology providers but the businesses using their products and services. As a result, the chief responsibility to push for transparency falls on advertisers and CMOs. Transparency is innately connected to trust, so implementing tools and practices that maximise open operations should be high on the responsible business list.

Options for achieving this are already varied. For example, buying within private marketplace environments can ensure buyers and sellers stay in equal charge of deals, and have the ability to set requirements such as transparency and data quality levels. Similarly, establishing direct agreements between demand and supply side platforms maintains clear understanding about pricing, publishers, and purchases.

By pushing the benchmark for transparency higher, CMOs and advertisers will receive greater value from closer partner relationships and encourage other vendors to raise their standards ­– be that through use of innovative distributed ledger technology or laying processes open to auditing. Adform, for example, invited the PwC specialists behind ISBA’s study to independently audit its platform and made the results publicly accessible, in a bid to boost transparency and inspire more companies to do the same.

Keeping up the movement to first-party centric advertising will benefit advertisers, CMOs, publishers and independent technology businesses alike by cultivating a healthier, more transparent foundation of operations. Moreover, by actively demanding change and openness, buyers can ensure that much-needed changes last.

 

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