I am often asked these days about our stance on transparency – the subject comes up in RFPs and has become the subject du jour in the same way as engagement, attribution and viewability.
As with these other trends, the term has been forced to carry more baggage than it was originally intended to.
Let’s recap on the transparency debate. It stems from the ANA Transparency Report of May 2016, which was specifically about advertisers being misled by agencies who may not be acting in their best interests.
This was when the fire started. However, it’s important to note that there was smoke long before this as far back as May 2011.
Cost and measurement
This fire ignited the need for agencies to be able to be transparent to their clients.
The initial requirement was to prove you were not spending money with companies that you own unless you can demonstrate its providing equal or better value than all other options. This has morphed into getting our suppliers to granularize and explain everything, so we can either overload our clients with data or find gaps where we can hide our own revenues and margins.
In other words, there was no mandate for agencies to break down costs of independent vendors, yet that has been the focus of most of the pressure.
Added to the mix has been the topic of measurement transparency that largely originated from Facebook’s careless approach to video metrics.
Both cost and measurement transparency were seized on by Marc Pritchard in his now-legendary address, which fanned the ANA’s flame and dumped a load of lighter fluid on for good measure.
Relying on the duopoly of Google and Facebook to tell you how much you owe them and how well things are working based on their numbers, when they account for 80% of ad spend, feels surreal to the point of being hallucinatory. But that is where things have been for several years.
MRC accreditation and openness to 3rd party measurement is an overdue step – it’s surprising the ANA and 4A’s didn’t require this long ago.
Proving genuine value
Implicit in measurement transparency is the very reasonable request to know the domains where ads have been served, primarily for fraud and brand safety concerns.
The tools to solve this are the same as those above, although the reporting is more substantial. In a future where firms are TAG Anti-Fraud accredited (again triggered by Mr Pritchard’s intervention), my assumption is the need to see actual log files will diminish.
Transparency has effectively been a quest by clients to ensure they’re not being ripped off and it’s very hard to argue with that. The scope has expanded as agencies have passed on some of that pressure to their partners.
In addition, there are other requirements which have been lazily conflated into the transparency bucket, as they do not relate to the financial standing of advertisers.
Often “data transparency” or “model transparency” is also added to the list.
For instance, what is being used to power a performance campaign. This has 2 roots, either a desire to dissect something that works to try and replicate (or even sabotage) it, or to be sure no data is being used that shouldn’t be.
Finally, and much less frequently, “user transparency” is raised.
This is a complex subject in its own right – but it has nothing to do with how advertiser money is spent. While the industry has made progress on providing greater clarity to consumers on the implicit deal they are making for a free internet (i.e. using their data and showing them ads) I don’t think anyone would claim this has reached a conclusion.
With the GDPR and ePrivacy regulation arriving next year affecting EU citizens, this will need to be further addressed by major players and it remains to be seen if initiatives such as DigiTrust can provide a meaningful solution.
Transparency has become a broad subject, but what we should be focusing on is simple: proving genuine value for money to advertisers.