Programmatic requires transparency

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(Photo courtesy Alias 0591 via Flickr)
(Photo courtesy Alias 0591 via Flickr)

In response to Marco Bertozzi, David Ellison advises agencies to prepare for lots more questions from their clients

I’d like to comment on "Programmatic: Taking it in-house," Marco Bertozzi’s piece on challenging the wisdom of taking things in-house from the advertiser point of view — specifically, the British advertiser’s perspective. ISBA represents advertisers in the U.K., where transparency is a huge discussion point at the moment.

In the U.K., lack of transparency, particularly in online media channels and mainly attendant to programmatic trading, has been growing as an issue and is now a major concern for advertisers. It’s leading to serious questions and even a loss of confidence for some.

At ISBA, we have reacted to our members by immersing ourselves in the issues, helping to add much-needed light to the considerable heat already present through numerous events, training workshops and published guidance.

Throughout this year, U.K. advertisers have pressed us for more information on programmatic and greater transparency. They regularly turn to us for an explanation of exactly what they should get from their media agencies or specialists. The focus is both on value and price in varying mixes, driven by both their own focal points and by the inputs and commentaries they get from their agencies.

Some representatives of media agencies and agency trading desks both in the U.K. and the U.S. have responded by complaining that the concentration on fees and transparency is excessive and misguided. Such denial and deflection is unlikely to dispel the need for clear answers.

Marco complained that you can’t mention programmatic these days without transparency rearing its head. Quite right, and a good thing too. Looking forward, we should expect even more questions from advertisers until they’re satisfied with the answers they get.

Having spent such time and effort lobbying on the issue and providing our members with useful, relevant information and guidance, we’re pleased that more of them now feel increasingly comfortable asking searching questions of their media agencies, specialist suppliers and media owners.

Rather than distract ourselves by complaining about advertiser-customers exercising their legitimate right of enquiry, might it not be more sensible to pursue the real opportunity that exists for a much better explanation of the benefits offered by online advertising, especially data-driven programmatic, and real-time trading without ducking the many commercial ‘wrinkles’?

From our perspective working for and moving amongst 430 of the U.K.’s leading advertisers and brands, we know that they are open to good arguments about the need to properly cover investment in trading desks and the associated people, innovation, data and technology provided that they can see what’s involved and what the returns are.

But expecting customers to hand over their money without asking any questions because it’s all too complex is an age-old refrain.

At the recent IAB Engage event held in London, it was acknowledged that the connected, savvy consumer wants more transparency and understands the value exchange, especially the value of data. If we accept that this is true for the consumer, then why not for the advertiser too?

Fortunately, some agree – Xaxis’ Caspar Schlickum recently admitted that "advertisers should get smarter about the ad-tech space and should educate themselves about this space."

So coming back to the title of Marco’s piece: Can and should advertisers set up their own trading desks? The answer is simple: It should be their decision, though not one to be taken lightly. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and certain types of company are naturally better-equipped to do it. Few have so far, which is why U.K.’s Money Supermarket – quite an evangelist for the approach on this side of the pond - is so often referenced in such discussions.

Nor do we buy the argument that advertisers shouldn’t get involved in the very complex world of programmatic because good businesses stick to what they are best at. Advertisers simply can’t hand over responsibility to their agencies because of the complexity of Programmatic.

This may be true for some, but by no means all. What is true is that a hefty dose of realism is needed – just as advertisers need the help of their media agencies, so they also need the specialists at Data Management Platforms, trading desks and/or Demand Side Platforms. But the vigorous independent sector means they also have the choice to go outside the cosier, all-inclusive relationships that aligned suppliers understandably prefer and push.

Above all, the decision should be an informed one. With some major players having rejected their media agencies’ suggested ATDs, surely far greater commercial visibility than most currently offer is in everyone’s interest. Training and empowering key personnel to ensure that they can challenge their supplier partners is important.

And so we return to transparency. The issue isn’t going to go away – look at the number of ad tech conferences taking place this autumn in both the U.S. and U.K.. Armed with the right information, advertisers should be able to make the right decisions. After all, it’s their money.

David Ellison is marketing services manager at ISBA.

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