On the surface, all seems to be going well on the digital front with the IAB reporting that by 2019, up to 90 percent of all UK digital advertising will be bought programmatically. Yet there is a particular issue that plagues the industry today. What initially emerged as a mere industry buzzword has quickly become one of the most pressing issues facing both sides of the digital supply chain – Transparency. Or rather, the apparent lack of it.
Nowhere else was this more present than at this year’s dmexco, where there was a strong sentiment that more transparency and accountability are needed. The conference even featured a talk from the industry’s biggest transparency advocate, Mark Pritchard. The P&G Chief Brand Officer said the changes he demanded the industry should make in his seminal speech in January are now “60 percent done” but emphasised the need to “stay diligent” and keep standards high going forward. Dmexco also saw the launch of the Coalition for Better Ads. This alliance of organizations, whose founding members include Google, GroupM, IAB and notable publishers, aims to set out quality standards, developing technologies to implement these standards, and encouraging overall awareness.
So what can we do as an industry to tackle the issue of transparency? Firstly, we need to change our focus. By only calling out the bad actors, we actually miss out on all the companies that are getting transparency right and all the best practices we could learn from them. Secondly, we need to educate. Sharing insights, strategies and new technologies is one step closer to getting it right.
On the 20th of September, we held our first PubAcademy UK after the summer break with just that in mind.
Brian Fitzpatrick, Angel Investor and former MD for Adapt.tv, began the day by taking us through the mechanics of blockchain theory and how it can be practically applied in digital advertising today. A blockchain is a continuously growing list of digital records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using encryption. It is an open-source way of recording transactions between parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered. It is most commonly used to record events or transactions in an open yet highly secure system. The answer to transparency? Not quite. A major pitfall is that blockchain relies on multiple “nodes” and players, and if some players don’t participate, it doesn’t work. With the likes of Google and Facebook reluctant to open-up about fraud and viewability, it looks like we may have a long way to go before this is implemented.
Dan Larden, Global Strategic Partnerships Director at Infectious Media, then joined PubMatic’s Kofi Amoako, Senior Director, Customer Success Operations EMEA, to share his answer to the transparency debate. Dan mentioned that although advancements have been made to fight fraud, with viewability and brand safety concerns, the goal of 100 percent transparency is more of a pipe dream. Advertisers cannot know exactly where 100 percent of their money went because that technology does not exist yet. In addition, Dan added that even if that technology did exist, the educational challenge still exists. Not every publisher or marketer is going to be able to understand the economics of programmatic media to manage the complex supply chain of every transaction involved.
Next up, we debated the question “Transparency: Era of Accountability or Programmatic Witch-Hunt?” with David Hayter, Programmatic, Data and Technology Director at Shortlist, Edward Bray, Head of Programmatic Trading and Sales at The Guardian, Dom Blacklock, Head of Programmatic at The 7 Stars and PubMatic’s Lisa Kalyuzhny, Director of Advertising Solutions.
It became evident that there are three main areas that need more accountability:
- Regulation: It’s up to the industry regulators to catch-up with the advances in technology and fraud to create realistic, achievable industry standards.
- Inventory Quality: There is another tech-tax that exists, which is the cost of filtering viewable impressions that are brand safe and fraud free.
- Communication: The irony is that we as an advertising industry are based on communication, yet we are all really bad at educating and communicating with each other on these issues.
Finally, Jacqueline Boakye, PubMatic’s Senior Director, Customer Success, UK, facilitated a balloon debate on the biggest blockers to transparency. Participants included David Frew, Ad Tech Manager, IAB UK, Alex Simpson, Head of Digital Revenue Operations, News UK and Adam McEnery, Solutions Engineer, PubMatic. Despite arguments covering everything from fraud, hidden fees and overreliance on metrics, it was David’s opinion that people’s inherent laziness and preference for solutions that are easy or have already been chosen for them is the biggest blocker to transparency, that won the day.
With programmatic and transparency at the forefront of advertiser’s and publisher’s minds throughout 2017, it’s no surprise that companies like PubMatic are trying to uncover answers to help demystify the challenges of transparency. If we keep celebrating and sharing the methods and successes of brands like Adidas, we might even stop talking about the problem with transparency before dmexco next year.