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‘Truth’ and ‘transparency’ headline Advertising Week Europe

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With less than two months left until the enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, this year’s Advertising Week Europe was always going to be skewed in focus towards the importance of trust and transparency. But with recent news stories around the use — or misuse — of consumer data serving as a backdrop to the event, the emphasis on these issues felt more important than ever before.

At least twelve sessions on the programme directly referenced either trust or transparency, and even sessions on video, mobile and quality touched upon the topic, showing how these industry developments are driving the need for trust.

On top of this, compliance sessions tackled the topic more explicitly, including lessons on how the industry should be ‘Putting the Consumer First with GDPR’, and how ‘Preparing for GDPR & Examining its Potential Impacts’ will start the race towards transparency.

Here’s just a taste from some of the sessions on why these topics are so important in today’s marketing landscape:

Ads.txt and third party verification such as the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) were highlighted throughout the week as key to the future of transparency.

As President and CEO of TAG Michael Zaneis revealed on stage following a recent study “If you are an advertiser and you only buy [via] Tag-certified [traffic sources] (which is proven to be about 500% better in terms of invalid traffic rates compared to non-Tag-certified [sources]) and you only buy ads.txt then you are reducing your risk of being defrauded by about 90%.”

There were also those who felt that talk about broken business models and the lack of transparency weren’t looking at the root causes, such as Lara Izlan, Director of Commercial Platforms and Operations at Auto Trader UK in a session, titled ‘Catfishing adland: restoring trust and truth in programmatic.’ In a strong plea for action and deeper investigation, Izlan stated: “We talk about broken business models and lack of transparency but what is the root cause? Fundamentally it’s two elements we have forgotten to value. One end of the ecosystem is the user, the other end of the ecosystem is the brand, we have completely disrupted the balance for the user.”

In a separate panel discussion, Pete Blackshaw, Global Head of Digital and Social Media at Nestle spoke of how building trust with consumers is essential for success in the post-GDPR era. For individuals to be compelled to give consent for data collection, they would need to have complete trust in the process, and would expect full transparency throughout every stage. As he commented: “We have to drive a high-trust bargain with consumers to get first-party data in the age of GDPR.”

And finally, discussions circled back to trusting technology partners. One session, that included our own CRO, highlighted the most recent CMO Council Report, which found 72% of brands engaged in programmatic buying still lack trust in the method. The panel concluded that while there has been a lot of discussion in the industry about the need for transparency, the emphasis so far has been more on clarity around fees than the equally crucial topic of greater insight into what’s happening in programmatic auctions. In some cases, both buyers and sellers have become unwitting victims of unethical behavior on the part of shady adtech players.

A prime example of this shady behavior can be attributed to unclear auction mechanics. Some exchanges have been caught over the last 12 months deploying “shadow” first-price auctions to increase their ability to capture revenue. Let’s be very clear: such activity hurts buyer performance, which means it harms publishers in the long run, too. Buyers think they are bidding into second price auctions, but in reality they are bidding into a first-price marketplace. This lack of understanding into the type of auction destroys trust in a marketplace, causes advertisers to pull back budgets, and also eventually causes CPMs to decline.

Amongst the hustle and bustle of the industry’s core networking event, a single theme rang clear — trust and transparency needs to be a shared responsibility in the ecosystem. It was noted by Izlan: “all of those that play in the middle have a part to play in bringing truth to these ends of the ecosystem.” Global CEO Jessica Burley of m/SIX Agency echoed a similar sentiment in a different session; “Trust is not an agency problem, publisher problem, or platform problem. It’s a shared problem for everyone in the industry.” From wherever you stand, it’s clear the discussion around transparency and trust isn’t going anywhere until changes are made.

Gavin Stirrat, VP Europe Partner Services, OpenX