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Transparency & Trust: The Future of Programmatic Buying

Transparency and trust are not new topics of conversation in the world of programmatic advertising. However, 2020 has seen these issues return to the fore as question marks were raised over whether the industry is doing enough to provide security and clarity across the supply chain.

IAB UK spoke to members of their Display & Data Steering Group to hear their thoughts on where we are currently, and what more needs to be done to improve accountability and increase transparency throughout the digital supply chain.

Why do you think transparency has dominated industry discussions this year? And is this focus warranted?

Achieving greater transparency in the complex programmatic ecosystem continues to be a shared objective across the industry. This is positive and reflects the industry’s desire to do better, collectively. What we have seen recently is a shift in who is leading some of these important conversations and asking the hard questions – the advertisers themselves are taking a more central and proactive role in the management and accountability of their digital marketing budgets. Their voice is lending more urgency and collaborative action to the topic.

Kevin O’Sullivan, business development director, Amobee

Of all the issues dominating ad tech discussions, transparency is the one that most concerns buyers this year. Ultimately, it’s about trust – trust in programmatic, trust in vendors, trust in the emerging channels and, overall, trust in the industry. The issue of transparency has given rise to supply path optimisation (SPO), as the buyside looks to address transparency across the supply chain. This is leading agencies and brands to reassess their vendor relationships as they look to develop fewer deeper partnerships.

Emma Newman, chief revenue officer EMEA, PubMatic

Transparency is not a new topic. In fact, we have been focused on it for several years. The ISBA/PwC study is driving great interest in this topic. I think the discussions are merited because if we can build trust in digital advertising, we should see more spend flow through programmatic pipes.

Harvin Gupta, director, solutions engineering, Xandr

What steps are currently being taken to ensure the industry is heading in the right direction when it comes to developing greater transparency and trust?

Industry bodies, such as IAB UK and ISBA, are collaborating to standardise transaction data within the supply chain. However, such initiatives are likely to take time and individual initiatives that help to promote transparency are also key steps in driving change. Omnicom Media Group have launched a transparent Marketplace offering to control supply path optimisation, cutting out intermediaries and confirming that this is genuine inventory coming from onboarded publishers. We support industry-wide solutions and we are part of a number of entities, but doing this delivers the most immediate, but still complimentary, answer.

Chris Swarbrick, managing partner, Technology OMGP

By working collectively, we ensure that the solutions we take to market work for everyone and do not result in an unfair advantage for those with the loudest voices or largest resources. This is at the basis of initiatives like IAB Europe’s Supply Chain Transparency Guide, IAB UK’s Gold Standard and the TAG standards (formerly JICWEBS). Many of these initiatives create a smoother way for brand investment to reach publishers and, as such, will continue to play an important role in helping publishers to effectively monetise their inventory.

Emma Newman, chief revenue officer, EMEA, PubMatic

In response to the ISBA/PwC study, Xandr, along with many others in the industry, have partnered with IAB UK to focus on developing greater transparency. The key focus of this work is aligning on commercial contracts to allow for smooth data sharing between buyers and sellers; for example, with publishers agreeing to disclose their tech fees to buyers. The industry has been continuously collaborating to increase transparency and build trust – therefore ensuring the best results for both buyers and sellers – and Xandr will continue to add its support to this.

Harvin Gupta, director, solutions engineering, Xandr

Looking to the future, what more can be done to create a sustainable and transparent ecosystem for display advertising?

Providing advertisers with access to inventory and valuable users without having to worry about issues like ad fraud is table stakes. With this security, brand advertisers will be encouraged to continue investment in quality publications. We’ve developed a robust anti-fraud prevention solution using bid stream data with the ability to detect fraudulent activity. Using machine learning and AI, we help brand advertisers see when users are getting a suspiciously high amount of bid requests and suppress those users to see if their bid rate comes back to a normal range – and then either remove the user or open them back up for targeting.

Kevin O’Sullivan, business development director, Amobee

Better transparency reporting will be important in understanding issues, but transparency enforcement will be crucial to delivering benefits. Buyers and sellers must have confidence that they not only know which intermediaries are involved in their programmatic supply chains, but that they can enforce that through methods such as curated buying paths. Equally, the current co-mingling of spend and fees obfuscated by sequential contracting needs to be broken up, so that all parties are paid what they are owed only when confirmed in an auditable manner.

Chris Swarbrick, managing partner, Technology OMGP

Transparency, accountability, and trust are key ingredients for the continued growth of our ecosystem. With these priorities in mind, now is the time to establish mutual accountability for each actor in the digital advertising ecosystem. Innovations and improvements like log-level data (e.g. Index’s Client Audit Logs) are a step in the right direction. Such advancements provide a receipt for each transaction conducted on an exchange, allowing publishers and buyers to audit spend more closely, thus boosting trust and autonomy on both sides of the supply chain. If we continue to hold each other accountable for our actions, we can continue to propel one another forward and create an ecosystem that’s truly rooted in trust.

Sara Vincent, senior director, strategic partner development, Index Exchange