Programmatic Transparency - 3 Questions To Ask

If you want more transparency, you need to be asking the right questions. That was the overwhelming outcome of the programmatic event run this week by Marketing Week and E-Consultancy in London. 

It sounds pretty obvious, doesn't it? However, like all apparently simple statements, the devil is in the details. My favourite observation reported about the event in Marketing Week came from Tui's General Manager for Digital Marketing Christian Armond. To paraphrase, he said that brands need to ask agencies the right questions as they look to find where margins may have shifted. Advertisers that push their agencies hard on the margin in their media buying may not be surprised to find the margin may appear smaller, but only because it has been moved to another part of the process.

With its need to deploy potentially multiple layers of technology to program systems to buy the right audience at the best price, and to avoid click fraud and viewability concerns, programmatic has a whole bunch of middlemen that it can shift its margins  toward. 

And that's why it's all the more crucial for advertisers to become au fait with the technology so they can ask the right questions. I've blogged before about the questions that, judging by my conversations within the industry, are a good starting point. Many months later, and many conversations with key players in the London scene later, here they are revised and cut down to the three central concerns.

1. Who am I paying for what?

It's the fundamental question every brand really needs to get to the bottom of. Take a look at your media and ask how much it cost to buy. Then take the full bill and ask for an indication of where else your budget has gone. There should never be a surprise that third parties are paid to make the programmatic industry run smoothly and, hopefully, safely, So it doesn't have to be a major point of friction. However, you can rest assured that, as Tui's Armond suggest, margins cut from media buying just might stand a good chance of resurfacing elsewhere. If you don't ask, you'll never know.

2. Whose looking at my media. Is it viewable, in a safe place?

When people used to shake hands on deals, it wasn't a huge issue, but now that machines are buying from one another advertisers have every right to question where their brand name will be seen. They also need to ask how much of their media has been served where it is viewable - i.e., above the proverbial fold. Being viewable by a human being is also a bonus, so brands need to know what their agencies are doing to ensure that advertisements are not being served to rogue sites where there is no human to view the message and that clicks are coming from real people, not bots. Remember, this will come at a cost, and will be factored in to your conversation around margins and who's getting paid what.

3. Data -- where is it, who's learning from it?

My view on this point has softened a little this year, since hearing from industry insiders that many small and medium-sized businesses actually benefit from sharing data into a collective pool that shows which messages resonate well with which audiences on particular sites. So if that sounds like you, then when you ask the question about where your data is and who's benefiting from it, you may well need to accept that part of learning from someone else's experience is to share you own. Big advertisers, however, may well find that they have their own data pool and would rather keep their discoveries to themselves through a private trading desk. Whichever side of the fence you are on, it still makes sense to find out who's got the data from your campaigns, how you get hold of it and whether it is made available to anyone other brands at the agency. If they are, are you enjoying access to their results?

These are three topics to get a conversation going. They don't have to be confrontational, they are simply topics that have arisen as programmatic's triumphant march carries on unchecked. The technology has so much to offer -- but like anything else, it raises concerns that are far better aired than left to fester.

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