The power of transparency in programmatic

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Programmatic is growing up

Programmatic has finally come of age. It is celebrating a decade of existence with ever-increasing prominence in the advertising sector. In the US, eMarketer has projected that by 2019 83.6% of digital display ad dollars will be spent programmatically – that’s not far short of $46bn. It is also finally maturing, becoming more stable and reliable as the major players start to take responsibility and drive transparency.

Scandals, scams, wastage and a lack of understanding

It was not always thus. Programmatic has long been seen as the wild west of advertising: while advertisers see and have enjoyed the benefits, many have major concerns around a perceived lack of transparency, leading to issues such as wastage and a lack of brand safety. Some sources believe that up to 60% of investment in programmatic was being lost by the time it reached the publisher, while Digital Market Asia estimates that 80% of ad dollars are ‘lost’ to the programmatic chain: SSPs, third party data, trading desks, exchanges and the DSP. Ad fraud scares such as the Hyphbot scam, and the brand safety scandals of 2017 did nothing to help the reputation of the sector.  

At ECI, we believe that a key issue has been a lack of understanding on the part of the advertisers, who often don’t know what data to request and how to scrutinise and analyse it. This allows agencies and ad tech providers to play faster and looser with their clients’ investment than they might otherwise. As they say, ‘mystery means margin’.

Forcing programmatic to be more responsible

In the last 12 months or so, advertisers, agencies and even governments have forced ad tech suppliers to start taking their responsibilities seriously. Armed with knowledge and the right talent, they have been taking ad tech providers to task – P&G, for example, announced earlier this year that it would slash its digital spend by $200m,

having identified last summer that, in Q2, $100m of their digital investment had little appreciable impact on their business. Meanwhile, GroupM took heed of advertisers’ concerns by updating its viewability standards for display and video ads, and the Guardian sued an ad tech supplier for failing to disclose fees earned from advertisers that appeared on the publisher’s site.

New initiatives are driving transparency and trust

In short, advertisers and agencies are pushing for more control over media performance and what it costs, meaning that they are demanding better targeting, better viewability, less wastage, less fraud and improved brand safety. Suppliers are delivering, with initiatives such as ads.txt and first-price auctions providing more transparency, and mergers between ad tech vendors and content providers eliminating many of the middlemen who make the process so murky. ECI strongly recommends set-ups where advertisers have full rights to all the data related to their buying; we have established a comprehensive set of best practice guidelines on how to buy programmatically in a selective way that minimises risk and costs, while maximising value. These guidelines have been proven to solve issues around transparency, viewability and quality, often dramatically improving ROI.

Transparency will drive success for advertisers, agencies and ad tech providers

Transparency is a real business differentiator – not just for advertisers, but for those providing programmatic services. As is so often the case, trust and openness are absolutely critical, and those agencies and tech providers who guarantee transparency will be the winners in this lucrative area. For advertisers, the win will be in choosing the right partner for great performance and transparency, and having a thorough understanding of the data and processes.

Thumbnail image: Best-backgrounds/Shutterstock.com

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