Focusing on Ad Network transparency


transparency_small.jpgADOTAS — From the government and Wall Street to our ad network corner of the world, there is a word that is on people’s minds these days – transparency. The meaning behind transparency is “what you do is OK; just tell me what that is.” The intent of transparency is to build trust between the consumer, the business, and the heads of state.

I can’t speak much for how transparency will work its way into the broader political and economic arena. But I have been part of a number of discussions in the past twelve months about how transparency – or the lack of it – causes agitation for brand marketers who are just now testing the waters with ad networks. Transparency has, ironically, been overused to mean many different things to many different people. Here’s what I think it means to brand advertisers, and how ad networks will respond.

The site list – When brands ask for a proposal, they want to know as much as possible about the sites that their message will appear on. Brands are picky. They want to be secure in knowing that their message resonates with the audience, is seen in proper context, and is visible enough to have an impact. With no site guarantees, there is no clarity that this will be the case. So the site list has to be the actual sites the campaign will run on, not a “sites like these” list.

Inventory ownership – Ad networks buy and sell inventory to each other as much as to advertisers. Brands don’t like uncertainty. They want to know that you have a direct relationship with the owner of the inventory, the publisher. That inventory can be bought in bulk, but it must be the inventory that the brand owner thinks they are buying.

Reporting – A site list is not a report. A report is a detailed list of all the ad placements, how they performed, and how they were optimized. This can be aggregated up to the sites, but needs to start at the path the ad was shown. Armed with these reports, the network and the advertiser can understand the contribution each publisher makes to the campaign.

Problem solving – If you can’t report, you can’t really be transparent. And by can’t report, I mean report the URL that the ad appeared with, not just the domain. Transparency is as much about CYA of an ad showing up in the wrong spot as it is ensuring that the ad is properly placed in the first place. If you don’t know where the ad ran, you are not really transparent.

If I worked for the government, or for Wall Street, I am sure this issue would be much more complex – maybe there are things we are better off not knowing. But for my brand, knowledge is a good thing, and transparency needs to be, well, clear.

— Express your opinion, comment below.


  1. David, your insights seem spot on based on my experience… and are the reason why we have evolved away from a “blind” CPA network to offering full transparency. It can be a challenge at times since transparency in search and email channels is less relevant/understandable to advertisers than transparency in display. Hopefully as brands gain more online experience their comfort level will increase. By being transparent, networks can help educate them and get them feeling comfortable faster.

  2. David,


    What do you think will happen to the networks who are buying bulk inventory from sites like Yahoo by rotating multiple offers through one tag? I’m assuming a brand advertiser wouldn’t like this approach.

    Do you see these networks HAVING to become more transparent overall or just with their brand advertisers?

  3. David – you are so correct that transparency and communication are the path for ad networks that want to remain standing after the shakeout to come. Very inline with your points is Rob Rasko’s (president of CPX Interactive) blog post “6 Things Smart Ad Networks Should Do To Ensure Success in 2009″


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