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Marketing trade bodies reveal strategy to achieve programmatic transparency

The marketing industry’s Cross Industry Programmatic Taskforce has unveiled the first stage in its strategy to address the lack of transparency in the programmatic advertising supply chain.

Branded “great news for advertisers”, the launch marks a “significant step forward” following the stark findings of the ISBA Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study in May 2020.

The study identified a “big hole in the value chain”, as it discovered half of the money brands spend on online publishers is lost in the supply chain and a 15% “unknown delta” cannot be attributed at all.

Formed by ISBA, the AOP, the IPA and the IAB UK following the report’s publication, the taskforce has now produced a toolkit of three documents available for adoption by the advertising industry, with the aim of reducing the size of the unknown delta.

At Tesco we have wanted this transparency for some time. It levels up the programmatic supply chain with other media channels in terms of auditability.

Nick AshleyTesco

The first of these documents is the ‘Audit Permission Letter’, which will enable demand side platforms (DSPs) and supply side platforms (SSPs) to share the data needed for a full financial audit. The second is the ‘Data Fields List’, which agrees to a list of data fields and will enable auditors to match impressions along the supply chain between advertisers and publishers.

The final document is ‘The Principles’, which summarizes how the documents are intended to be used, by whom and why. Each is available to download from the trade bodies’ websites.

Commenting on the news, Tesco’s head of media and campaign planning Nick Ashley says: “This is great news for advertisers. At Tesco we have wanted this transparency for some time. It levels up the programmatic supply chain with other media channels in terms of auditability.”

Being able to conduct a full financial audit of the programmatic supply chain is something advertisers have been wanting “for a long time”, Channel 4’s interim head of digital marketing and martech, Emily Latham, adds: “[It] will enable them to truly extract the value from this channel and invest with more confidence.”

As part of the taskforce’s need to understand the efficacy of the new instruments, ISBA’s advertiser members are preparing a controlled test and learn study from live audits.

As well as good practice learning and aggregating findings to share with the taskforce to manage refinements, this test will also deliver evidence to demonstrate expected improvements in match rates and thus a reduction in the size of the unknown delta.

The advertiser-funded research from ISBA, in association with the Association of Online Publishers (AOP) and carried out by PwC, marked the first time programmatic advertising supply chains had been mapped from end-to-end, anywhere in the world.

The study collected data from 15 brands – including Tesco, BT, Unilever and British Airways – eight agencies, five demand side platforms, six supply side platforms and 12 publishers, representing approximately £100m in total UK programmatic media spend.

All of ISBA’s 3,000 members were given the opportunity to participate, but only 15 chose to take part.

The report found publishers received approximately half of advertiser spend. Of that 51%, the study could attribute 35% to suppliers including the agency, DSP, technology providers and SSP.

Source: ISBA/PwC supply chain transparency study, 2020

That left 15% in unattributable spend, or the ‘unknown delta’ on the above chart, equal to around a third of supply chain costs. However, given the study only took into account disclosed programmatic models, this is a best-case scenario and the figure is likely much higher in the long-tail of publishers and ad tech.

A previous experiment by The Guardian found in a worst-case scenario the publisher received just 30% of the money brands invested, with the rest lost in the supply chain.

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