Programmatic Education -- Can It Really Paper Over Transparency Issues Between Brands And Agencies?

After having already said that trust in the relationship between agencies and clients was severely strained, ISBA has made a move to help educate its members how to better understand programmatic and improve transparency. The aim of its new guide is to help advertisers understand what they are buying, and so hopefully improve transparency with their agencies. Its new guide comes just months after its equivalent in the US -- the ANA -- claimed advertisers are being let down by agencies taking rebates in a market that was always believed to be rebate free.

Education can only be a good thing for advertisers. The more they know and understand the mechanism by which, it is estimated, around three in four digital display ads will be bought this year in the UK, the better. Restoring trust, though? My jury is out on that one.

One positive aspect that could come as a result of advertisers understanding how programmatic works is a better comprehension of the huge technology challenge of programmatic. A steer on the huge investments in tech, personnel and partnerships that agencies are having to make, at the same time as they feel they are being squeezed by clients, is probably a very useful thing.

Yet a part of me wonders what they are going to make of how ad tech affects three justifiably huge concerns -- viewability, fraud and brand safety. Programmatic and RTB have bought these simmering issues to the boil as it becomes increasingly difficult for agencies to exert full control and have full visibility on where their ads are going and whether they will be seen by a human. The greater the role that automation plays in the process, surely the greater the risk of budget being wasted?

So perhaps there will be a better understanding between clients and agencies through programmatic education. Or advertisers may  have their eyes opened to the brand and budgetary risks of letting machines fire their display off around the globe. I think most advertisers are probably aware that there are major problems that are not created by their agency and that the execs are working with the tech guys to cut down on low viewability and fraud while boosting brand safety.

I believe programmatic is an area where there is an accepted risk which both sides know is ever present and both sides are interested to see what technology can offer or maybe a switch toward more direct automated buying. Yet I don't see it having much of an impact on agencies viewing themselves as being tasked with doing more for less. Nor do I see it having any impact on the murky world of rebates, where agencies suspect large media deals between publishers and buyers steer their plans towards sources that benefit -- and offer kickbacks to -- the agency.

Programmatic education can only be a good thing, but I would stop well short of today's headlines, which suggest it can bridge the gap in trust between advertisers and their agencies.

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