Programmatic technologies have many strengths and weaknesses depending on what they’re being asked to achieve and their incentives to get there. >70% of all digital display spend is now programmatically transacted and CTV is exploding. Seamless alignment of incentives between the customer and the vendor has to be the mutual goal. Advertising buyers want to optimise real outcomes that their businesses care about in appropriate environments. However, these goals are handicapped by patchy compliance to industry standards and a lack of transparency, in particular, in the data they get.

The ANA issued on 29th April 2021 a new RFP entitled “Programmatic Media Transparency – Eliminating the Waste Through the Entire Programmatic Marketplace” and expanded its scope materially from their 2016 study. This references the work of ISBA and PWC. These are critical steps for the industry to take and the mission to standardise data access is vitally important.

In our years of experience inside the data, there are pragmatic actions an advertiser can take today that help solve these challenges.

Fig 1./ The pragrammatic approach – what’s the first step? 

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In concert, these data, product and commercial requirements deliver the answer to the age old industry problem – “I know I waste half of my money, I just don’t know which half”.

1. Exclude non- Ads.txt / App-ads.TXT verified domains

Ads.TXT allows buyers to understand if they are buying from official sellers or not. However, everyone being classified as having RESELLER status and patchy compliance by Publishers is holding the standard back. It promises so much more. Buyers should require their DSP to surface Ads.TXT Direct qualifying impressions or provide tools for buyers to include/exclude DIRECT and/or RESELLERS only.

2. Support Supply Chain Object 

Supply Chain Object represents the most sophisticated of IAB’s tools to solve for transparency in the programmatic ecosystem. The standard represents a valuable way for buyers to verify the hands through which their money has passed and thereby evaluate their performance. Like oRTB 3.0, it is not broadly available within DSPs but clients should require their DSPs to have a roadmap to expose it.

3. Unbundle and expose platform fees, 3rd party and Media pass-through costs

It feels self-evident that advertisers or publishers should know what they’re paying for and who they’re dealing with but interestingly this is not market norm today. Optimisation is impossible without knowing the true cost of something.

4. Surface SSP Auction-IDs in logs

The unique SSP Auction-ID represents the closest bridge between the demand and supply-side of the auction. Chaining a transaction using this ID is highly effective but it is almost universally absent in most reporting logs. Get access to this ID and you’re almost there.

5. Fixed fees not % of Media

Vast column inches have been written about the potential conflict of interest within any model (and indeed industry) where remuneration is paid as a share of a clients spend. Media is no exception and we are generally seeing most Advertiser>Agency relationships move towards a Fixed-fee based model. However, the programmatic ecosystem still works on a % share of transaction value and there are large spreads in commissions paid.

6. Unrestricted, log level data access

Fenestra research in partnership with AOP UK found there is a strong negative correlation between data access and supply-chain costs.

If you don’t have data access, you’re getting a bad deal.

Access to granular reporting is increasingly table stakes, much of the industry now recognises this and will provide access if required.

7. Avoid self-preferencing, avoid conflict-of-interest 

There is a well documented conflict of interest where a DSP buys from its wholly-owned SSP. It is the focus of a meaningful part of the CMA’s interest in the digital advertising industry. There can be instances where proprietary technology works best within a wholly controlled tech-stack. In the end, however, this must be monitored and managed to ensure advertisers interests are maintained.

8. Exclude Meta-inventory sources

Inclusion of “curated” but blind impressions or 3rd party intermediaries should be carefully avoided given the lack of unique audience and inventory to any particular supplier. There are a few examples where it can add value but, like self-preferencing, needs close management to ensure constant value.

9. Versatile set-up tools allowing line-item bid price manipulation by SSP, by Publisher

Ask a simple question – can I control how and where my money goes? Never before in media buying has so much decision-making responsibility been vested to a 3rd party than in programmatic. It is frustrating that DSPs do not provide more simple, granular controls to their clients to customise their buying behaviour.

10. Block Undisclosed domains

Don’t accept them, don’t buy them … ever. They do not perform better and chasing phantom conversions is rarely worth the potentially catastrophic reputational damage to your brand.

Different clients are at different stages of this journey but, with regulation now a certainty, it is a journey all will take. Some steps are easy, some are hard but all add to a buyer’s understanding and control of their investment.

Seek out, appoint and measure vendors against their actions not their words.  From product development to commercial dealings we can see partners making the best choice for the advertiser. Leading vendors in this area include Adform, MediaMath, Beeswax and Index Exchange.

Without actively requiring and paying for these features a buyer will never get them – they won’t appear by chance. Advertisers must stipulate them and negotiate them into their contracts. Access to data is far more valuable relatively, than knocking a few %  points off your platform fees or paying a thousand bucks a month for your logs.

It’s simple – get these 10 things right and you’ll revolutionize your programmatic ROAS.

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