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From OMMA RTB: Is Programmatic Making Good on the Transparency Promise?

Written on
Nov 21, 2013 
Author
Richard L. Tso  |

ADOTAS — While the promise of real-time-bidding (RTB) is to automate and streamline the ad buying process, the industry knows it has a huge transparency problem. The OMMA RTB conference kicked off yesterday in Seattle to provide a deeper dive into the RTB process and the market landscape, and reveal how advertisers and publishers are harnessing technology to simplify the ad buying process.


The conference started off with a keynote from MediaPost Editor-in-Chief Joe Mandese, who examined how what started off as just advertising automation has spawned an entire data-driven industry known as “adaptive marketing.” RTB is no longer about the inventory, he said; it is about the data and insights gleaned from the ad transactions themselves.

The panel “Opaque, Abstruse, Complex: Is Programmatic Making Good on the Transparency Promise?” discussed the growing concern that most of us really don’t have much of an understanding into the programmatic environment. People conceptually understand, how it works but it’s a black box of sorts, where brands and agencies know what goes in and the results that come out, but don’t quite get how.

“Our clients sometimes come and ask us to tell them what the right questions are to ask about how programmatic campaigns work,” said Nicole Scaglione (pictured), director of advertising solutions at OpenX. “People shouldn’t be afraid to ask these questions if they need help pointed in the right direction.”

Exactly how much transparency is actually possible when algorithms are doing the decision-making behind the scenes? That depends on what you mean by transparency. As Brian Nash, senior product manager of media and optimization at The Cobalt Group mentioned, “sometimes clients want reports and numbers just to feel more comfortable about the process. They aren’t looking for actionable information.”

True, that may appease the more junior folks over on the brand side, but what about those who really want to see how their campaigns are performing? Looking to beef up their own understanding about ad automation and delivery, agencies have begun to build their own specialized trading desks to keep campaign intelligence in house. This model has been fraught with controversy, because now brands are forced to rely on the agency to be fair and honest, leading to concerns about arbitrage and markups.

“The trend is interesting to watch, because networks and trading desks need to simplify complexity for a client. It’s a similar evolution as paid search,” said Eric Picard, CEO and founder of Rare Crowds. “Now spend on the programmatic side has increased so much that clients want more information to get smart about their campaigns.”

Picard went on to discuss how major publications have embraced the programmatic model and are now offering inventory to exchanges, but the lack of transparency becomes even more of an issue once it leaves the publisher’s hands.

“When ads are bought and sold through exchange mechanisms, there is little knowledge about where the inventory came from,” added Picard. “You may never know if you bought an ad directly for a network or from a daisy-chain deal that has been bought and sold several times over before you purchased it. In that latter case, you know that the price has been marked up bit by bit with each touch point before it came to you. There is also little insight about who is actually buying the inventory.”





Richard L. Tso is a reporter for Adotas and an avid writer covering the intersection of technology and advertising, fashion and music. With over 12 years of experience in the Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations industries, Richard has held executive positions at global agencies and technology companies and is founder of the interactive communications firm Pseudosound Consulting LLC. A classical cellist and painter, he believes that sometimes sound carries more weight than words. He is a graduate of Stanford University.

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