4 mins read

The year transparency became more than an industry buzzword

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It’s fair to say that the year 2020 will undoubtedly go down in history. But while the world continues to tackle COVID-19, enforce social distancing and roll out vaccines, a revolution is taking place in digital advertising, and it focuses on transparency.

Back in May, ISBA’s Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study rocked the market and energised transparency initiatives, with revelations that half of advertiser spend never reaches publishers. The study shone a light on the complex and fragmented supply chain where an ‘unknown delta’ absorbs 15% of spend. But as we start a new year, has the industry brought programmatic transparency closer to reality?

SPO is now a top priority

Supply-path optimisation (SPO) helps buyers rationalise and simplify programmatic supply chains. At the same time, demand-path optimisation (DPO) helps publishers understand how their inventory is bought and by whom. Both practises increase transparency across the ecosystem and have grown in importance since the ISBA report.

Last year, for instance, Diageo’s marketing team met with a number of supply-side partners to discuss how they run programmatic auctions, with the aim of simplifying the supply path and consolidating its spend through a handful of trusted vendors. In September IAB Europe released a comprehensive ‘Guide To Supply Path Optimisation’, with contributions from across the industry and a specific section on DPO. And most recently SPO was identified as one of the top seven priorities for 2021 in the SpotX Global Video Advertising Trends report.

Over the coming year both the sell and buy sides will thoroughly evaluate their tech partnerships to build simpler, more transparent and resilient value chains. But media owners and advertisers aren’t the only ones taking action; technology providers are also playing a crucial role.

Responsibility is shifting

In the wake of the ISBA report, responsibility for validating the programmatic supply chain is shifting, and progressive tech vendors are taking ownership of transparency by demonstrating to business partners that they are delivering on their commitments.

We took that step here at Adform by engaging the same PwC team that produced the ISBA report to audit our own platform, using stringent efficiency and transparency criteria. PwC found the platform to be 100% transparent in tech fees, data fees and media costs within the tech stack. It confirmed a 100% audience match rate between DSP and DMP, 100% accurate reporting, zero discrepancies throughout the platform, and efficiency gains of between 24% and 60% across core daily workflows. Vendors that have nothing to hide should embrace the opportunity to drive transparency by taking similar action and having their solutions independently audited.

Identity is evolving

Developments in identity and consent are also supporting the elevation of transparency throughout the programmatic supply chain. The transition to the latest iteration of IAB Europe’s Transparency and Consent Framework, TCF v2.0 was completed at the end of August. This gives publishers greater control over integrations with tech partners, as well as the confidence to ramp up their identity infrastructure and install new consent mechanisms.

More recently, independent industry organization Prebid launched a neutral, scalable, open-source identifier known as SharedID. A combination of the first-party Pub Common ID and the third-party ID, SharedID is the first real substitute for the third-party cookie. By adopting TCF v2.0 and using SharedID as their first-party identifier, publishers can achieve a consistent end-to-end setup which promotes transparency across the supply-chain. We view this as both great news for the industry, but also great timing for our approach as we went live with first-party programmatic trading in the second half of 2020, testing the Prebid solution. This news can only speed up the rate of adoption.

Integration is advancing

The programmatic ecosystem is complex and fragmented, with individual point solutions for each part of the workflow holding back transparency. Piecing together demand-side platforms (DSPs), supply-side platforms (SSPs), data-management platforms (DMPs), dynamic creative optimisation (DCO) tools and ad servers – among many others – can cause integration issues when these solutions don’t speak to each other, meaning there is no single source of truth.

As part of the quest for transparency, the industry is embracing integrated solutions that combine all these elements and enable full visibility into where ad spend is going throughout the entire value chain. Instead of unnecessary and excessive complexity caused by a myriad of solutions, the industry benefits from independent and interconnected platforms that enable full transparency and effortless modern marketing.

Last year is one to remember for many reasons but looking forward there is real hope for clarity in the programmatic supply chain. With increased emphasis on the complementary practices of SPO and DPO, robust standards and identifiers enabling end-to-end consistency, and a move towards fully integrated platforms, transparency is no longer a buzzword. If tech vendors across the ecosystem take responsibility and use auditors such as PwC to deliver tangible, independent assurances around the integrity of their solutions, transparency really can be the new reality for the digital advertising ecosystem.

Phil Acton
Country Manager, UK & BeNeFrance, Adform

Adform is a global, independent and fully integrated advertising platform built for modern marketing. Its enterprise technology – Adform Flow – harnesses superior user experience and a scalable, modular and open architecture, to enable seamless management of the whole advertising campaign life cycle. It provides clients with enhanced control and transparency across their advertising operations, including ownership of all data from campaigns. Founded in 2002, Adform employs over 600 staff across 25 global offices.