ISBA/PWC Programmatic Transparency Report Suggests Industry Reduced 'Unknown' Ad Spend

The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) and PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) released its second study last week that examines transparency in programmatic media trading.

The findings suggest that transparency continues to improve, albeit slowly. There is still work to do.

The data shows that marketers now spend about 65% of their approximate advertising budgets in programmatic -- up from 51% in 2020.

The research analyzed 1.3 billion impressions across nine months and across 11 major advertisers, which supplied campaign data. It was fielded in 2022, basically because in a previous study auditors could not account for 15% of spend.

The latest study, conducted in 2022, was designed to test the progress made since 2020, looking at buys across The Trade Desk, Google’s DV360 DSP, the Google Ad Manager SSP, Xandr, Magnite, MediaMath, Adform and Index Exchange.



Romain Job, chief strategy officer, Equativ, believes the findings from the study confirm the ongoing move from open auctions to private marketplaces, with curated marketplaces having an effect on spend traceability and supply-chain efficiency.

“It’s clearly leading to greater working media for buyers, as well as higher revenue for publishers, he said, adding: “All this despite aggressive moves from big players to sustain high take rates, and control, by vertically integrating their suites and limiting transaction traceability, rising adoption of supply chain signals is driving better clarity – feeding most ad decisioning and helping to close the ad spend black hole.”

The goal was to understand whether programmatic supply-chain transparency would be improved by the Taskforce toolkit produced in response to the 2020 findings. The test examined the following questions:

  • Does the Audit Permission Letter (APL) accelerate data access?
  • Does the Data Fields List (DFL) improve data quality?
  • Does improved data quality lead to improved impression match rates?
  • Is the "unknown" delta reduced?
  • Are there clear, actionable next steps?

Data collected from 11 advertisers, 10 publishers, seven agencies, six demand-side platforms, and six supply-side platforms showed match rates were 58% in 2022, compared with 12% in 2020. The unattributable ad spend, “the unknown delta,” was reduced to 3% on average. And, the proportion of advertiser spend reaching publishers rose by 8%.

The study in 2022 also uncovered differences in the delta between open marketplaces at 3% and private marketplaces about 1%, reflecting the benefit of investments by advertisers, agencies, tech vendors and publishers.

The researchers wrote in the study that “although nine months is a marked improvement on the 2020 study, it is still short of the five months that we believe should be achievable.” Along with the findings, the researchers published key recommendations that include, but were not limited to:

  • Data retention and data transfer: we believe the Taskforce should seek to establish audit protocols for (a) temporary data retention, and (b) data transfer processes, including real-time checking during transfer periods.
  • Agencies should appoint centralized, well-trained contact points for APL approvals and for extraction and reporting of buy-side log-level data.
  • Advertisers should consider private supply chain audits chain every 1-to-3 years: proactive management can be a source of competitive advantage.
  • Publishers should consider working with fewer SSPs, and consider private audits of them every 1-to-3 years.
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