Advertising's Transparency Struggles Come From A Misguided Model

We know that digital marketing is complex and sometimes confusing for brands. But we only perpetuate the appearance of complexity when two industry juggernauts offer different opinions on transparency guidelines for the advertising industry, especially at a time when technology -- particularly in digital advertising -- has pushed the transparency conversation to the fore. 

We’re seeing struggle across the board, as both agencies and technology companies adapt to an era where brands demand more accountability. Advertising has evolved to the point where brands are dependent on technology to deliver their digital campaigns, yet technology’s benefits often stand in direct contrast to the ways agencies have historically transacted media. 

This paradigm is playing out in the current differences in opinion between the ANA and 4As on appropriate transparency guidelines. True transparency requires a coordinated effort from brands, agencies, and technology stakeholders to ensure guidelines are enforceable and measurable. The war of words we’re seeing is proof that the ad industry isn’t set up to properly support this kind of transparency today. Getting there will take strategic shifts and a greater degree of trust from all the involved parties, but it is within reach. 



Agencies are the starting point. They have always been the media experts that brands can turn to for help when executing an advertising plan. Technology has disrupted this traditional model, right down to the way media is bought and sold. But the technology companies that develop software specifically for brands must have a vested interest in aligning with both brands and their agencies to ensure transparency in digital media. That is the only way programmatic reaches its full potential. 

In light of the recent conversations about the practice of agency kickbacks and long-held concerns about digital middlemen profiting off of arbitrage, a programmatic business model that is built on cooperative partnerships between the brand, agency, and technology partner will help alleviate many concerns over transparency in digital media. This model for engagement puts the software agreement in the hands of the brand, but is also flexible enough to allow varied levels of agency engagement with programmatic, from strategic planning to full-on hands on keyboards, with transparency driving the engagement.

Agencies that embrace this practice can provide incremental value to their clients by also becoming system integrators and technical consultants, closely resembling services like SAP or Accenture. Within this model, both the brand and agency benefit. The advertiser would own the software, guaranteeing full transparency, while the agency would maintain their media-planning role and serve as a consultant on the brand’s behalf when engaging with the technology platform.

This type of engagement also requires the industry to shed the widespread belief that direct relationships with technology partners equates to immediate hands on keyboards for brands, some of which may lack the internal resources to manage their addressable media campaigns. In a flexible programmatic software service model, advertisers would own the advertising software, but their agency or another third party can execute programmatic campaigns on their behalf.

As brand education increases, this model can and will support brands’ transition to full in-house programmatic. Adoption of this programmatic business strategy will both resolve issues of transparency and provide a secure role for the agency going forward. As brands indicate that they want more transparency and less waste, this is the only model that makes sense.

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