Why programmatic needs to clean up its act | M&M Global

Why programmatic needs to clean up its act

Advertisers need to insist on financial transparency from agencies and technology partners, writes Tim Barnes, chief product officer at AudienceScience.


Programmatic advertising has been getting a bad rap lately. First, the publication of the ANA’s Media Transparency Report last summer uncovered the extent to which bad practices were pervading the US ad buying ecosystem. Then, the year ended on a particularly low note with the Methbot scandal grabbing headlines in December as the biggest case of ad fraud ever.

Our own analysis around the Methbot scam showed the impact on our clients was minimal (only $1.20 in every $10m of media spend was served to the Methbot-operated IPs), but the damage was already done and programmatic has now come to represent everything that is wrong with digital advertising.

During his recent IAB keynote speech, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard highlighted the degradation of trust around viewability, third-party measurement standards, and partner transparency.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the future looks bleak for those working in programmatic. On the contrary, I believe that it presents us with a tremendous opportunity to clean up the industry, and shift programmatic up a gear so that digital advertising can really come into its own.

A new chain of command

It requires a new way of thinking, in which advertisers must take back control and have full exposure into what’s happening between their agencies and technology. This will ensure that everyone is clear about every element of the transaction – and only the people who add value to the chain will receive any form of payment.

In the past, the ‘chain of command’ between the brand, the agency and the technology was completely linear. The brand paid money to the agency; the agency took the budget and said “we’ll make this work for you”. The agency owned all the relationships with the technology platforms and the advertiser really had no idea who or what those relationships were. This linear approach is what led to a lot of the opaque activities that were uncovered in the ANA transparency report.

There’s a better way to structure these relationships.

I like to think of it is as a more fluid, infinite triangle, where the client certainly continues to enjoy a direct relationship with the agency as a partner and strategy advisor, but the technology needs to be brought up a layer so that it’s no longer kept at a distance from the client.

Both the brand and the agency should have direct access to the technology. They can both access the measurements coming from that technology, and this way, all three partners can work in harmony together.

It may mean the agency is a little bit more agnostic and the brand has a little bit more direct interaction with the technology, but that provides all three parties with a checks and balance system. Advertisers are able to pinpoint exactly how and where every penny of their budget is being spent against with the corresponding results and metrics.

Breaking down walls

The next challenge is for the industry to agree on a standard set of measurements. As a multi-channelled buy-side platform, we absolutely agree with Marc Pritchard’s stance that there should be one standard measurement across everything we do; we need to get third-party Media Ratings Council (MRC) accredited solutions into all of our digital media buys in a way that allows us to measure accurately and compare across channels. Unfortunately, walled gardens like Facebook and YouTube with their own tracking measurements are making people-based targeting across the internet difficult.

Widely criticised for its inaccurate metrics reporting, Facebook is beginning to allow third-party verification measures – for example viewability – and has agreed to be audited by the MRC. Google’s recent decision to no longer allow third-party tracking in videos suggested it might be taking a step backward, but it too has just agreed to have YouTube’s metrics MRC-audited.

“If we strive to reach these goals, we’ll enter a new age of programmatic that delivers on its promise”

Let’s hope this puts a stop to Facebook, Google et al marking their own homework, and opens up the doors for third-party integrations that will allow advertisers to track and measure their content even within the walled gardens. After all, it’s far more valuable in the long run for brands to have insight into their campaigns on all devices across the whole of the internet, rather than having to run separate measurement strategies for social channels.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the industry needs to stop trying to attribute blame and come together to resolve the issues that have turned programmatic into a dirty word.

As a whole, we need to support the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) with its efforts to fight fraud. Additionally, third-party verification must be enforced across all digital advertising, which can only be accomplished as an industry-wide commitment. Programmatic platform providers must be willing to collaborate and share the knowledge that we gain every day from our own technology. Advertisers need to insist on financial transparency from agencies and technology partners.

If we strive to reach these goals, we’ll enter a new age of programmatic that delivers on its promise. Brands can be confident about investing in the creative and media-planning necessary to take full advantage of the technology; marketers will no longer have to trade reach for relevancy; and consumers will benefit from a more personalised advertising experience.

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