Transparency must be a requirement, not a nice-to-have

Havas' launch of the first "fully transparent" programmatic ad-buying platform has prompted some raised eyebrows among sceptics.

There is so much suspicion about the lack of transparency in the digital media supply chain that Havas’ launch of what it says is the first "fully transparent" programmatic ad-buying platform has prompted some raised eyebrows among sceptical rivals. 

Havas’ new offering, Client Trading Solution, is billed as a "control tower" that lets advertisers see how their money passes through every part of the programmatic chain on the buying side. Dominique Delport, global managing director of Havas, is right to say there’s a transparency problem across the industry and the marketplace needs simplification.

Too many intermediaries are taking a cut, as a report by the US Association of National Advertisers and Ebiquity showed last month.

The marketer’s £1 can be worth 60p or less by the time it has gone through an agency, via a trading desk, with additional data, ad verification and anti-fraud fees, and then entered a demand-side platform that feeds into an ad exchange.

And that’s only on the buy side. A supply-side platform will often take a commission and add other "tech taxes" – 10p or 20p – before the money finally reaches the media owner. That’s why the marketer’s £1 ends up being worth as little as 30p to some publishers.

Alas, Havas is unable to give clients visibility on the vendor side, despite the fact it is about to become part of Vivendi, a media owner, as it doesn’t have access to supply-side data.

Being "fully transparent" begs a lot of questions. Does it mean showing gross or net sums? That could make a difference in ensuring all rebates are disclosed. Havas says it will show both gross and net costs.

How about mark-ups? Asked if Havas acts as principal to buy inventory and resell it at a higher price, Delport says: "We don’t do that."

But does Havas, in its role as agent, mark up any inventory and take a margin – for example, if it buys through its own trading desk, Affiperf – so that a client pays a higher price than Havas pays? It varies depending on country and client, Havas replies.

It is easy for rivals to throw rocks at Havas. All of the big six ad agency groups need to do a better job on media transparency. Some groups sell themselves on being "transparently untransparent" – clients opt in and get a cheaper price, without being told the size of any mark-up – but that raises its own problems.

Advertisers shouldn’t be lulled into thinking digital transparency is optional or a nice-to-have, paid-for extra. They should demand it as a basic requirement.

Gideon Spanier is the head of media at Campaign.

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