Commentary

Programmatic Transparency Could Drive A Wedge Between Clients And Agencies

The automation of digital advertising is bound to hit a few bumps on the road to progress, and the biggest one right now appears to be the very simple issue of transparency in programmatic trading.

Although the issue may be simple to surmise, the answer is far tougher -- and if agencies don't get it right, they now not only have each other vying for clients, they also have technology companies that are more than happy to deal directly with advertisers.

The issue of transparency is one of the central themes of the OMMA RTB and Programmatic event taking place in London on October 14th.

One of the best parts of organising the day -- for which speaker nominations are still open -- has been speaking to many advertisers, publishers and agencies, and the emerging theme is that advertisers are very wary of trusting agencies to run programmatic campaigns for them. When you talk over the issues, you can easily understand why.

The major challenges involve getting assurances on questions that are far more easily posed than answered. 

The overarching question for advertisers of all sizes is how they actually know that they have received what they have paid for. With click fraud so rampant, it's an area that a brand would rightfully want assurance on. 

The crucial issue for the big brands is how they can be sure their brand name doesn't get put against inappropriate material. It's the same question that has been there with the launch of ad exchanges -- but with programmatic automating the process further, brands are concerned that their logo could appear in places they really don't want it to be.

Data is another major issue. Brand X really doesn't want Brand Y, a major rival, to be better informed to gain a competitive advantage through data gleaned from their ad spend.

Of course, just a decade or more ago, it was all far simpler. The easiest way to know you were getting what you paid for was to book traditional media and then open the paper, turn on the TV or radio and see that your budget had resulted in a tangible advert.

With digital display only needing to show half an advert for a second and two seconds for video, advertisers are rightfully concerned that they are not getting that much for their ad spend -- and may sometimes be getting nothing at all.

The stakes, however, are now being raised. Programmatic makes a lot of sense when executed professionally with reputable partners -- and when it comes to partners, there are many technology-based vendors and platforms coming forward which can either be a resource that agencies use or just as easily, a tool that advertisers use directly without the aid of an agency.

Sure, search has already seen widespread automation, so automation is not new. However, search itself was a new category. Display is different -- it's the lifeblood of the agency and advertiser relationship, and with automation budget holders now have more options.

I cannot think of a single issue in digital display that is as important right now. 

If agencies don't proactively tackle these issues, the next couple of years could offer some a potentially bumpy ride.

3 comments about "Programmatic Transparency Could Drive A Wedge Between Clients And Agencies".
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  1. Michael Kaushansky from Havas Media, September 5, 2014 at 4:49 p.m.

    Clearly transparency needs to improve. Why not make the margin agencies mark-up become available?

  2. Michael Hubbard from Media Two Interactive, September 6, 2014 at 9:11 a.m.

    This is a well written article, but from someone who has been in the industry from almost day one, I just do not see this as an unsolvable problem. The point about un-viewable ads and videos only playing for a second - these are micromanaging concerns. The sheer cost to advertise online is a mere fraction still of what traditional charges, yet we question losing viewability of a banner ad, but never question how many people don't read to page C9 of the Sunday paper where our ad was placed over a holiday weekend. Why? Because it's a guaranteed rate base? That's foolish. That all said, I never like to waste money either - but if you are a results driven company, you're going to see that programmatic on average reduces your costs and more importantly improves your overall ROI. It's the latter part of the statement that matters the most - and as we spend our time micromanaging and complaining about who makes what margins, we're losing site of the fact that we've improved the ROI, we have a better understanding of our audience, we've built out successful attribution models that account for bots and non-viewable ads, and overall we've made it a more successful and streamlined process. The REALLY good agencies will understand how to tie the media and the creative together, and now you have a brilliant campaign that should ease any fears that some of your ads were below the fold. ***Please keep in mind... I'm not advocating below the fold ads, but remember, you are setting cookies - so even when your ad is not in view, it's still collecting data on the user - so this is not a lost cause like everyone plays it out to be - you just need to understand the difference and model correctly.

    Concerns over content and brand protection should not be any different now than they were for the advent of social media or the first blind ad networks predating them. Via programmatic you should not be creating a black list of web sites, you should be creating a white list of only trusted sites. This greatly reduces your exposure to questionable content. Yes, this requires more work, but it's better than having to hire a PR team after the fact.

    Just my 2 cents on a free forum, so take it for what it's worth.

  3. Kelly Pugh from Piston Agency, September 6, 2014 at 4:49 p.m.

    On the agency side, clients know how much they are paying for media, analytic support, account support, etc. So, essential the margins are transparent as far as how much is going to media. The transparency issue isn't on the agency side per the first comment.

    My problem with this article is that it makes it seem that a client deciding to work directly with a tech company is going to make programmatic transparency issues go away. The company will tell the client exactly what they want to hear, but I guess hearing it from the sources mouth would make advertisers feel better about it?

    I do think it is up to the agencies and clients to continue pushing on programmatic buying companies to work on transparency issues. I don't think the problem is the way agencies are navigating these relationships, the problem is just programmatic buying philosophies in general.

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