Trust but verify. But at the very least, verify, because expectations that digital advertising transparency will happen by proxy need to be much lower. That’s one of the key takeaways from a new report by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) called Transparency in the Australian Digital Supply Chain

The study was undertaken on its behalf by Method Media Intelligence (MMI), a New York based digital advertising market ad measurement specialist.

The results are discussed on a webinar featuring speakers from McDonalds, Omnicom, Telstra, and the IAB in addition to the AANA and MMI.

The study involved analysis of the log files of three very large household consumer brands in Australia that agreed to contribute their data. One of those brands is McDonald’s, and the other two, while not identified, are believed to be Coca-Cola and Toyota.

In addition to the brands, three agencies and five Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) were involved in the study which analysed about 120 million impressions.

It builds on the work done in the UK for the ISBA/PWC/AOP study in 2020 exposing the gaps and challenges in tracking spend across the supply path was both significant and international.

Among the key findings of the report;

  • Persistent supply transparency measurement not apparent on the buy-side other than by proxy ‘via DSP partners’
  • DSP logs were difficult to get in a timely manner, sometimes as a result of false assumptions around data retention times. There  were also instances of them being pulled incorrectly, or from the wrong place, which is indicative of non-habitual use
  • Some tech stack partners were unwilling to support measurement. Data access, when available, is often two-steps removed. Most (58 per cent) DV360 purchased impressions did not register Exchange IDs
  • Comparisons between DSP logs and Ad-Server logs remain a viable, if data-challenged, approach to transparency. There are available approaches to automating this process (using available partner tools at hand).
  • Some agency teams were unfamiliar with emergent data share measurement hubs like Google’s ‘ADH’ (a now-necessary prerequisite to many transparency reports)
  • Match rates across different logs were in line with comparable projects done last year (ISBA/PWC 2020 Supply Chain Report), but this time with IVT scores included 

The authors also say that the numerous traffic verification approaches utilised today are demonstrably not filtering all bad traffic or payments, and sometimes are only done at the pre-bid level. “Wrapper” implementations inherently make transparency for buyers difficult. 

And they caution that the use of programmatic buying bundles is inherently non-transparent, and a barrier to any unpacking of supply path insights throughout the path.

There is a systematic disconnect between verification data and supply path workstreams according to the report.

“ Supply Path Optimization remains a nominal remote side gig,” the authors note.

Transparency, accountability, improvement

According to Chris Graham, Head of Global Media Accountability & Sourcing, McDonalds, they were looking for three things from the project.

Chris Graham, Head of Global Media Accountability & Sourcing, McDonalds

“The first ones around the complexity and transparency piece. The second one is around, accountability, and the third one, which I think is the most important a desire for continual improvement.”

The area is incredibly complex he said, and that was born out in the research.

“So we have been keen to work with good third parties that can help us understand that complexity. I think that’s absolutely crucial. We just don’t have the expertise on our side of the fence so we work with partners that can help us there.”

With complexity comes a need for transparency and Graham said he preferred to think of this from a positive perspective. “I think there’s a lot of negative associations with that word transparency. For us it wasn’t around  ‘What’s the agency hiding because we don’t have that kind of questions.’  It’s more around helping us get visibility. It wasn’t ‘what are they hiding’,  in fact it was the absolute reverse [with more focus on] continual improvement.”

Graham however still stressed the importance of accountability. “That reassurance piece is absolutely crucial with your internal stakeholders for us. We need accountability and reassurance, we have internal stakeholders, we have our franchisees, it’s important to be able to give them that independent reassurance. As much as we have the trust with our agencies.” 

Taking responsibility

Asked what stood out for him in the study, Method Media Intelligence (MMI) COO, Scott Thomson who oversaw the creation of the report told Which-50, “It is about recognising what you can control and what you should be able to control. Getting the data right is a major key.”

He said skill sets are important but so are mindsets. “Training teams to use the available tools properly is the baseline. It is not designed to be easy. Don’t assume that current behaviors will set you up to realize the core promise of programmatic advertising.

Trust but verify

The authors of the report recommend a number of steps brands can take to overcome opacity in the supply chain.

For starters, brands should try to structurally avoid extra layers of “proxy” buying, and they should manage and monitor any managed service level agreement with 3rd party buying partners.

They recommend assessing buying partners on their ability to interrogate datasets for transparency purposes, and they say it is important to hold technology partners accountable for supply path quality pre-requisites.

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