The Secrets Behind Transparency: Cracking the Code of Full Disclosure in Online Advertising


If there was one word to describe the changing expectations of online advertising in 2006, it’s transparency Best price on claritin ., who was displaying an ad for AT&T at the time, says transparency means, ‘The full, accurate, and timely disclosure of information.’ In keeping with the reference, I fully anticipate that AT&T is fully aware that their ad is being displayed, and accurately reported on

Transparency seems fairly straightforward and a reasonable expectation for a business, so why would anyone want to hide such a thing? There’s a battle going on in the industry over transparency and while the expectation is understandable, it is also changing the foundation of the business.

Over the last several months, we’ve read several stories detailing how advertisers are shocked to learn they’ve unknowingly displayed advertising on unacceptable web sites or email. A lynching ensues on the network or publisher who allowed it to happen and all claim contractual coverage sprinkled with a full layer of ignorance. It’s not an uncommon story and dates back to the beginning of online media networks like DoubleClick.

The headlines always include sites of a racy or twisted nature, but usually the point is that the advertiser didn’t know where their advertising is being displayed and they are unhappy with how their brand has been defiled. Loud statements of how online isn’t mature enough yet for the major brands to trust, and senior executives at the leading online companies pledge to solve the problem. At this point, it’s a formulaic experience. Almost everyone in the food chain wants to provide the advertiser with a positive transparent experience, but various factors push the business in a different direction. It’s a puzzle that hasn’t been solved because the real issue is rarely discussed, but the pieces will need to start fitting into place.

The first problem is that transparency in most cases is one of the networks main assets. The intellectual property of a network isn’t just their fabulous optimization or behavioral alogrhythm, it’s the make-up of their network. A network may have hundreds or thousands of publishers which they work with to meet the needs of the advertiser. To reveal this list and detail its performance impact on a campaign is to dangerously give away valued intellectual property. The concern of course is that advertisers will learn about how the network achieves performance and then go directly to the publisher of choice and cut out the network. Yes, it happens and will continue to happen until the network finds a new asset.

Second, a network may have thousands of publishers who have received an ad tag which they–at some time in the past–contractually agreed to place that tag on a specific site or page. However, time in the Internet biz flies fast and publishers rarely consider their obligations to networks as top priority, so the tag finds itself on alternative pages or sites that weren’t apart of the original agreement or expectation. In most cases, this is a benign event because the placement is harmless. But in those rare cases where greed and deception motivate the publisher, it is placed on an unacceptable site. This is a classic case where the network polices the publisher, but has little ability to find their ad tag on the wrong site at the right time–it’s a needle in a haystack.


  1. Spot on Bob, it does take constant communications with your advertisers and managing expectation with them, which will lead to deeper understanding.

    A few companies out there, spoke to one today, who is trying to build an open exchange where bidding will be as mechanical as trading stocks. It will take some times before networks feel comfortable revealing more on their back end optimization process, if it ever happens at all. Transparency will force evolve publisher to commoditize their inventory which will lead a pricing revolution, which no publisher is keen to see.


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