Is A ‘Transparent’ Ad Tech Supply Chain Plausible?

businessman using tablet PC and information communication technology concept. IoT(Internet of Things). GUI(graphical user interface). paperless office.

A recent report by PwC and the UK’s advertisers’ association ISBA confirmed what many already suspected – the ad tech supply chain is the great unknown.

The most telling revelation from the report was the fact some 15 per cent of programmatic ad spend could not be attributed to any particular source, leaving an ‘unknown delta’.

While some have put this down to limitations in the methodology – despite the fact the study observed 267 million impressions and 2.2 billion lines of data over a nine-month period – the report’s authors have defended the legitimacy of the finding.

“We have been highly rigorous in what we have declared to be an impression match and we are therefor very confident in the analysis that comes out of the data,” said PwC UK parter Sam Tomlinson during a webinar hosted by the AANA earlier this week.

“We don’t believe this is representative of all of programmatic, all we’ve done here is match impressions at the most premium end of programmatic.”

Tomlinson did acknowledge issues around DSPs and SSPs confirming data, due to non-disclosure agreements.

It is these restrictions that make it “very hard” for the wider advertising industry to gauge an in-depth understanding of the ad tech supply chain.

This is why the report calls for standardised data sharing requirements within the industry, to allow advertisers to ‘follow the money’ right through the supply chain.

“There’s no like-for-like comparison of data,” said ISBA director of media Steve Chester.

“That’s one of the key findings of the study, the format in which the data is presented in and the data fields you are delivered as a client or as a publisher vary wildly.

“It almost makes it impossible to have like-for-like on both sides. There just needs to be like-for-like comparison on both sides, really simple and line by line.”

Although such data tracking seems feasible, at least on the surface, Chester pointed to the systematic issues that stand in the way.

“This industry has been built on complexity, rather than any other Machiavellian reasons for obfuscation.

“It’s just built in complexity with no standardisations that have been brought to bare and that’s what needs to change – to actually allow that [ability] to follow the money right through the supply chain,” he said.

In Australia, the ACCC is currently holding an inquiry into the Ad Tech industry, which will look specifically at the issue of transparency through the supply chain.

Another startling finding from the study for advertisers and publishers from the report was the fact that just 51 per cent of total programmatic ad spend ends up with publishers.

To remedy this, Tomlinson advocated for the use of private marketplaces and premium publishers.

“If I was a brand, I would want the best quality agency team on my account and I would be very willing to pay a premium for that,” he said.

“Once I had that highest quality team in place, I would be asking that agency to focus primarily on private market place arrangements with premium publishers, which drives down all your risks around fraud, brand safety, as well as the spend leakage that this study was concerned with.”


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