Commentary

Down The Not-So-Transparent Rabbit Hole

I learned a lot about transparency at OMMA RTB in Chicago today -- or at least I think I did, because the more I learned about it the more confusing it became. Considering the topic, that's not a good thing.

My big question was: "When does this stop being a topic?"

The general response: "Never. The subtopics just change."

So my new theory on transparency is that it has, is, and forever will lead the entire advertising industry down a rabbit hole. Maybe there's an ending to that hole, maybe there isn't. That's a fitting mystery, because it means the transparency rabbit hole is not so transparent.

That sounds scary, but I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. Using a nerdy example, "transparency" is starting to sound like an annoying video game. Every time you beat one level (solve one transparency issue), you don't beat "transparency," you simply move on to the next level, the next issue.

Think about it for a second. For example, viewability wasn't even a thing two years ago. Once that's "solved," what's next? I think it's a good thing to have problems that need to be solved. And when you do solve a problem, another challenge comes up. If everyone had the answer to every transparency question, what would be the point? It's good to have some people understand certain topics better than others -- that is the nature of a free marketplace.

Perhaps the biggest issue with transparency is the problem that there's a ton of money to be made in fraud. That's what someone at the event told me, and I don't think anyone would dispute that claim. And it's not like fraud is unique to the advertising industry, so the fact it's an issue shouldn't really surprise anyone.

The conversation around transparency goes so much further down the rabbit hole than just "how much did I lose the bid by?" From my conversations with OMMA RTB attendees, it spans all sorts of issues, including the death of cookies and the subsequent rise of monopolies should cookies disappear.

But most importantly -- even more important than fraud in my opinion -- is that the root of transparency issues has nothing to do with technology, fancy algorithms, and data scientists. It has to do with something much more complex than all of those: human emotions, namely trust.

Judging by the conversations I had, the ultimate solution to transparency appears to be working directly with people you trust. But by the sounds of it, it's not so easy to trust.

Yet, if trust is truly the root of transparency issues -- the bottom of the rabbit hole -- the fact the marketplace is so fragmented can't help.

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