Think Tank Panel Predicts Market Pressure Will Stimulate More Advertising Transparency

Adobe Stock / greenyork

by Adobe Communications Team

posted on 11-20-2017

Marketers are pushing for more transparency in what a recent Wall Street Journal article referred to as “the murky world of digital ad buying.” A panel of nine leading advertising-industry insiders tackled the topic of transparency and accountability during a provocative Adobe Think Tank forum on “The Future of Advertising,” held during Advertising Week in New York.

The group’s “bold prediction” was that, by 2022, Facebook and Google will no longer maintain a “duopoly” on advertising-related data due to increased competitive pressure from other emerging platforms, and continued clamoring by advertisers for an open and transparent ecosystem. As the panelists acknowledged, advertisers increasingly want more information about the true underlying costs and results from their ad buys.

Transparency means transcending walled gardens.

In terms of transparency, the Think Tank panel agreed that more visibility into the “walled gardens” — large media networks with vast volumes of valuable data that cannot be activated on media properties outside of their network — is vital for advertisers to understand how their ad dollars are performing holistically – across channels, formats and media. The term “walled gardens” is typically used to refer to Facebook and Google, which account for about 70 percent of all digital ad spending, but can be used to classify any major media platform that restricts data portability.

The challenge for advertisers is to get a comprehensive view of ROI in terms of audience exposure, and engagement across different media environments. “These walled gardens make it incredibly hard for brands to measure their ROI accurately,” said Keith Eadie, vice president of Adobe Advertising Cloud. “We’ve got to get the data out of silos.”

Market pressure from emerging platforms and advertisers already have resulted in Google and Facebook taking steps to make more of their data openly available. With an estimated $35 billion in media now flowing through digital channels, advertisers understandably want detailed data on who they reach and how those consumers engage. “I think that pressure will increase,” said Eadie. “These companies are already starting to recognize the demands of marketers, and are moving toward more transparency, with results independently verified by third parties.”

Eadie noted that digital ad spending surpassed television ad spending for the first time ever in 2017, with $70 billion in ad budgets split about evenly between the two channels. But the big question for advertisers, added Martin Kihn, moderator of the Think Tank discussion and vice president of research at Gartner, remains: “Is my ad being viewed by a human?”

Emergence of a new advertising standard.

Regardless of the channel, marketers want to know that their ad was seen and that it was viewed by a real person. “At a minimum, that’s the requirement,” said Will Warren, executive vice president for digital investment at Zenith Media. “Any sort of softening-up in the position of the walled gardens would help us. Also, having one standard, a third-party accredited means of measurement, is something that I think all agencies would be excited about.”

Another prediction from the Think Tank panel was that a new currency rooted in this basic expectation will emerge as the basis for digital ad transactions. “I think the new currency will be verified-human cost-per-viewable impression,” said Eadie.

“As advertisers take control of their own data,” added Warren, “they also will have to rely less on third-party data sources for analytics. I think you see a lot of movement in the industry toward that end, and you’ll see more of that in time to come.”

But any new standard, added Eadie, will improve on the “de-facto CPM standard” which has led to buying decisions that disregard fraud and viewability metrics.

Eadie predicted that increased automation, which is closely tied to verifiable metrics, will help facilitate the development of trusted marketplaces in which advertisers know exactly what channels their ads are delivered on, and who is viewing them. “Ad Cloud offers the On Demand marketplace, where advertisers can access inventory from over 150 premium publishers and buy a specific audience across them at scale,” he said.

Still, Martin from Gartner added, the automated supply chain in today’s marketplace is far from transparent, making it difficult for advertisers to know from whom they are buying, and for exactly what they are really paying.

In today’s advertising ecosystem, a private marketplace, said Sharmilan Rayer, vice president of audience and programmatic at NBCUniversal, represents a one-to-one relationship between the buyer and seller at the macro level, with campaign fulfillment done via an automated programmatic pipe in real-time. “In that environment,” he noted, “sellers can limit their inventory to certain pools of inventory.”

By contrast, open marketplace auctions provide unverified, indirect sources of supply. Private marketplaces and open auctions are likely to continue to grow in the future. In fact, the Think Tank panel predicted that, by 2022, 80 percent of advertising buys will be automated. Still, Sharmilan said, open marketplace standards, such the emerging Ads.txt initiative, are a move toward greater transparency. “Think of it like an authorized reseller seal of approval,” he said.

It’s all about the data.

The ability to access and use massive amounts of data is what is enabling automation at scale. “You can automate, measure, and be transparent until the cows come home,” said Eadie. “But if you’re not actually using data to inform actions and decisions, then you’re probably not achieving the outcomes you want.”

How advertising data is used and measured is ultimately at the heart of the Think Tank panel’s focus on transparency. “This is really about owning your campaign intelligence holistically,” concluded Eadie. “If you own your total campaign intelligence, then you understand what’s working and what isn’t. You can’t truly own your campaign intelligence unless your media buying is consolidated within a single platform.”

There’s a lot more to learn from the Adobe Think Tank conversation. Watch the recorded discussion from Advertising Week NYC, and get ready to harness the power of advertising technology to improve your bottom line.

Join the conversation with other #AdobeTT participants about using ad tech to improve personal and organizational effectiveness, and to build better relationships.

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