Commentary

Is Ad Tech Ready To Clean Up Its Act?

Are ad tech stakeholders heeding marketers’ calls for the industry to clean up the supply chain? To work on transparency? To get real on disclosure of fees and more? If they aren’t, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is making it clear that they need to, and the time is now.

At its Programmatic Symposium on Wednesday, the trade association discussed its initiative about an evolving framework for advertising automation. Notably, the IAB has also signaled its intention to move off of the word “programmatic” and all the baggage it conjures, to “automation." So, in effect, this might be IAB’s last “Programmatic Symposium.”

What’s at stake could not be more clear. Programmatic or automated media buying has matured to the point that stakeholders must address the issues that threaten to implode the industry. If they don’t, growth, sustainability, credibility, and potential profits are all on the line.

Speakers at the Symposium, including Michael Barrett, president and CEO of Rubicon Project, underscored the theme of industry maturation. For a maturing sector—programmatic or automated advertising—it’s time to clean up, or others will do it for the industry.  Evidence of the maturation: sectoreMarketer estimates that 78% of all digital ad spend is programmatic this year.

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For its part, the IAB said it wants to encourage the right conversations taking place. Going a step further, it issued guidance on what should and shouldn’t be automated. Citing a research study on data-centricity, the IAB found that 56% of respondents (media buyers, marketers, publishers, and tech experts) described themselves as “somewhat to fairly data-centric.” Nearly 60% said they’d be “extremely data-centric." The responsible use of data is one of the areas that needs to be addressed, according to the IAB.

Challenges for organizations trying to become more data-centric are substantial. In a different study, the IAB found that 80% of respondents were “somewhat” or “less than somewhat" confident that their organizations could take advantage of effective data usage. Further, 66% of respondents said few organizations have the talent to support data-centric initiatives.

In framing the issues the industry faces, the IAB deemed this a critical time in the evolution of automated advertising, citing transparency issues, the complexity of the supply chain, inventory quality, fees/costs, and, of course, brand safety.

“The processes need to be clearly defined and better understood,” said Dennis Buchheim, senior vice president, data & ad effectiveness and general manager, Data Center of Excellence, IAB. “We must understand what’s underneath the covers,” he said. “We need a new framework for automation involving people, processes, and platforms in the post-programmatic era.”

The IAB’s framework aims to facilitate more meaningful communication among buyers, sellers, and vendors to benchmark market size, size up investment areas, evaluate attitudes on what’s working and what isn’t, and to support informed evaluation, negotiation, and activation, Buchheim said. Focus areas addressed are transparency, which includes data quality, identity resolution, and inventory quality; and brand safety, which includes ad effectiveness and marketing intelligence, user experience, and organizational alignment and staffing.

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