Why the progress made on transparency in advertising is clear to see

Kees de Jong, general manager for EMEA at Sizmek, takes a look at the figures from this years IPA Bellwether Report and asks if the age of the black box solution is truly at an end.

As we predicted last year, transparency in ad tech has very much been on the agenda for 2018. Brands are spending their budgets widely and on a variety of platforms, and IPA’s latest Bellwether Report showed exactly that. Nearly a quarter of advertisers increased their internet spending in Q2 of 2018, but if brands are to spend more, they want to know exactly where their money is going.

We’ve seen a high-profile call to action from Unilever, which announced its intention to pull advertising from any major publishers that couldn’t prove where its ads were being shown. And the likes of Cisco and Diageo pulled ads from YouTube over brand safety fears, which has prompted cries from many players in the sector for a fresh approach. The good news, however, is that although reports of dangerous content, fake news and hidden pricing plague the walled gardens, there are plenty of us in the industry promising big changes.

The transparency trade off
It’s no secret that in the past advertisers have had to sacrifice transparency, control and knowledge about their advertising in return for performance. Brands and media agencies either chose working with non-transparent providers who delivered impressive conversion rates or working with more transparent providers that couldn’t quite keep up when it came to the results.

Fortunately, the days of having one or the other are over, with total transparency now becoming the new norm from many independent ad tech providers that have responded to the industry’s concerns. Advertisers can now have both performance and transparency, thanks to partners that are prepared to be open about where budgets are being spent and ads are being served.

Supply chain certainty
One of the biggest issues the ad tech industry has faced in the past is how much of a brand’s advertising budget is actually spent on media. Let’s say a client spends £100 on a managed services provider. How much of that actually makes it to the publisher and where does the rest go? The answer is that it’s divided up between a mix of ad serving, consultancy, viewability and verification partners, third party data, traders and the DSP. But in the past, nobody was prepared to go digging to find out (or declare) how much went to each.

This is why marketers and agencies now care more about control – they want to know what portion of spend is going to working media. For this to happen, they need transparency into how their media performs, where it works, and what it really costs. Advertisers are demanding the chance to take charge of their media, data, creative and overall advertising investment. And to address these challenges, Sizmek has set a new standard for the industry by announcing its ‘Total Transparency’ approach to digital advertising back in January.

Lifting the lid on the black box
Not every marketer knows the breakdown of where their money is going or the insights their data holds, but they should. And this is why transparency and control over how media performs, where it works and what it really costs, matters so much.

But it’s not only pricing that should be disclosed by ad tech partners. Data insights should also be more freely available to the brands that choose to spend their marketing budget on digital advertising. What’s the point in having oceans of data if we hold on to or hide it from our own clients? The only way we will all be successful and reach or convert consumers is if we work together to target the right people at the right moment with the right message. Understanding the data helps us get there.

Fortunately, the era of black box practices, which mask the true cost of a campaign and other information, seem to be over and the dawn of transparency, visibility and more control is here. The platforms that offer this service to their clients are the ones that will survive and thrive in an increasingly scrutinised industry.

Advertisers understandably want to be certain where their spend is allocated and where their ads are being seen. But the good news is this is all possible with ad tech partners that promise more openness and insight, and that are committed to building and maintaining this trust. Yes, the world’s biggest brands will continue to shine a spotlight on industry concerns. And yes, these challenges will continue to apply pressure onto many ad tech firms to make important changes.

But the extent to which this sector has listened to clients, advertisers, brands and agencies is positive. And the efforts many of us have already gone to in order to help advertisers see greater ROI from ad spend – as well as visibility of how they get there – is crystal clear.

Kees de Jong is general manager for EMEA at Sizmek