Transparency Is No Longer An Option, It's A Requirement

The topic of transparency may seem exhausted but until all players in the industry are on board, a fair and transparent programmatic marketplace remains out of reach. 

Significant developments in the regulatory landscape such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, the California Consumer Privacy Act, and the EU’s recent ruling that cookie use requires active consent, are seen by some as a hindrance to digital advertising, but this is far from the case. 

These rules don’t only promote trust with the consumer, which is vital, they also encourage clarity throughout the ecosystem. Data regulations require all participants to consider whom they are sharing information – and therefore transacting – with, encouraging them to simplify the supply chain. The cookie ruling pushes the industry to reduce dependence on this opaque and outdated tracking method and explore more open and transparent targeting and measurement tactics. Ongoing data regulation can only guide the industry down a more transparent path.



The digital advertising industry is making great progress, working towards a cleaner, more open ecosystem with increased transparency for buyers. But there is still a long way to go, with a new survey from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) revealing transparency remains a key concern for a third of marketers. The survey highlighted specific issues that contribute to a breakdown of trust, including undisclosed media rebates, invalid traffic and fraud, data confidentiality, and the reselling of media with a hidden markup.

With advertising channels such as TV, out-of-home, and audio increasingly using programmatic, it’s clear this is ultimately where all media wants to go. In the latest World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) State of Advertising report, 98% of respondents cited investment in programmatic as a priority. But further progress towards full transparency is vital to ensure buyers know who they are transacting with and where their budgets are being spent. 

Various protocols and specifications are being introduced across the industry to promote authenticity and transparency. Following the success of ads.txt, which identified authorized sellers of publisher inventory, the IAB Tech Lab introduced two new specifications to increase trust and transparency in the supply chain. These are Sellers.json, which allows buyers to verify direct sellers or intermediaries for a purchase opportunity, and the OpenRTB SupplyChain Object which enables buyers to see which parties are selling or reselling a bid request, ensuring they know who they are transacting with. 

To make a real difference, these specifications must be incorporated into industry-wide standards, such as those established by the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG). There must be a standardized code of conduct that includes a fully auditable supply chain, explicit fee arrangements without hidden charges, clear auction rules with no biased mechanics, full disclosure of business arrangements such as kickbacks or rebates, and transparent change notification. 

Buyers can help drive accountability by only working with providers that meet these standards. Advertisers are already taking action to increase clarity in the supply chain, with another ANA study revealing almost 70% have updated media agency contracts due to concerns around transparency and rebates. This push for adherence to industry standards must continue.

Transparency in programmatic has come a long way, and there are worthwhile initiatives in the pipeline, but there is still room for improvement. While many providers are committed to high standards of transparency and disclosure, others still depend on shady tactics and undisclosed arrangements. Transparency is a business imperative if the industry is to achieve the clean, fair and open programmatic ecosystem needed to meet growing buyer demand.        


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