Tackling The Transparency Challenge

Who hasn’t tossed around the word “transparency” in the last day — or, let’s get even more granular—the last hour? Probably no one who reads this column and Real-Time Daily. There are real challenges around the issue of transparency in this business, and they can be looked at through various lenses.

TAG, the acronym for the Trustworthy Accountability Group, is working on these issues across all parts of the advertising supply chain, launching an anti-fraud certification program on Monday.

“It’s a supply-chain sanctity organization,” for anyone who “touches inventory,” beginning with the marketer, agencies, metrics and analytics firms, ad-tech companies, publishers and after-market players, as Randy Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), put it.

Rothenburg was part of “Transparency Across The Industries of Advertising,” a panel at AdExchanger’s Clean Ads I/O conference on Tuesday. “When you have large amounts of fraudulent traffic it means that somewhere in the supply chain, a good company is doing business with a bad company,” he said. The goal of TAG is intervention and quality control. “You should never do business with someone whose quality you can’t attest to,” he said. In case you’re wondering, anyone can be certified, meaning all parts of the supply chain.

For agencies, the supply chain has grown incredibly complex: “It’s hard for people to understand it. It’s fragmented. Even if you understand the difference between company A and company B, there’s a lot of overlap,” said Nancy Hill, president & CEO, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s).

The convoluted supply chain and lack of transparency also affect how marketers plan. Marketers say, “I don’t know where the money’s going. How do I manage it?” said Bob Liodice, president & CEO, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).

There’s plenty of blame to go around. During the panel, Rothenberg, Hill and Liodice all agreed that publishers, agencies and marketers have done a bad job of explaining the supply chain.

“Some agencies understand it, but they assumed that the marketers would educate themselves,” Hill explained. “We should have taken them by the hand and walked them through every step of the process.”

Liodice said a survey of ANA members found only 25% of marketers ready to deal with the complexities of the digital supply chain. “Most don’t know how to work with agencies, publishers and ad-tech vendors,” he said. “Don’t judge marketers by the P&Gs and Unilevers,” Liodice added, noting that not all marketers have the resources and time to deal with supply-chain issues.

And companies are fielding questions like, how many data calls from an advertising asset are too many? What is object latency? What do I do about the proliferation of redundant tags? What to do about a Web page with 90 data calls on it? What the heck is header bidding? “There is an absolute requirement in the value chain that we need more technical competency. it’s part of the job now,” Rothenberg emphasized.

By the way, when asked for a show of hands of who in the audience knew what header bidding is, most of the hands in the room shot up. But that was a room full of ad-tech vendors and publishers!

Another point raised: How can you have a discussion about improving the ROI on marketing without ever having talked to a consumer? “The whole ad-blocking story is the story of an industry that has created a digital media experience that is so horrifying, so upsetting and distressing to an average human being, that they’re saying ‘no mas,’” Rothenberg declared.

Rothenberg went on to say that creepy direct-response and retail advertising is dragging things down. Consider ads that follow consumers around on the Web long after they’ve purchased the item they searched for. “You end up wanting to block the whole medium,” he said.

“Technology has created changes in the process, structures and pricing for advertising faster than the people spending the money can understand it,” Rothenberg said. That’s a profoundly clear statement. The speed with which technology is evolving is overwhelming even to practitioners of the art and science of ad tech.

As for fraud, Hill said TAG must hit every single touchpoint. “If you’re doing business [with a company], you need to know whether it has a street address and a phone number.”

Rothenberg added that people signing onto insecure WiFi networks also generates fraud. How many of us have done that? Probably too many.

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