IAB Europe Virtual Programmatic Day – The Programmatic Transparency Panel wrap-up

IAB Europe’s Virtual Programmatic Day took place on 28th April and with 1,500+ attendees it is one of the largest virtual events in our industry. Featuring speakers from IAB Europe member companies CNN, Bloomberg Media, BBC Global News, Double Verify, Integral Ad Science, OMD, MediaCom, Google and OpenX, the event was split into panel sessions to address and debate the industries hottest topics from post-cookie to programmatic in-housing.

The Programmatic Transparency: Where are we now? Panel
The second panel of the event addressed one of the key topics in our industry – transparency in the programmatic supply chain. The panel explored whether we have made progress in achieving transparency, which industry initiatives have made the most difference and whether COVID-19 is impacting the priorities around transparency.

Clementina Piazza, Programmatic Director EMEA, Integral Ad Science moderated the panel and was joined by:

  • Gavin Stirrat, VP Europe, Partner Services, OpenX
  • Ross Webster, Managing Director, Europe, Foursquare
  • Steve Wing, Managing Director, UK, Ireland & Nordics – Rubicon Project
  • Emily Roberts, Programmatic Trading Manager EMEA, BBC Global News
  • Andrew Buckman, CEO, Sublime

Event Recording
Watch the event recording here.

Audience Poll
We ran an audience poll during the panel to understand how COVID-19 is impacting the prioritisation of transparency; the majority (92%) of the attendees stated that it is either more of a priority or remains at the same level.

Key takeaways of the panel as cited by Clementina include:
Transparency is a vast concept and its definition has changed quite a lot over the years to become nowadays focused mainly around financial and supply chain transparency, mainly due to the rise of programmatic as a widespread way of transacting digital media.

Dedicating a whole session to it manifests in itself that there is still work to be done. A lot of the transparency and trust issues that we have seen coming up in the past have not necessarily come up deliberately. They have come up because of how intentionally or unintentionally complex we have made this ecosystem to be, which in turn has created a fertile ground for loopholes and ambiguity.

However, it is evident, especially in Western Europe, that we are now at a stage where there is awareness around what the major issues are and we also have a number of initiatives that are working to address those issues. The desire for greater transparency has been equally driven by both sides of the ecosystem and is evident in initiatives such as the IAB Europe Supply Chain Transparency Guide, ads.txt, app-ads.txt, supply chain object, sellers.json, the IAB Gold Standards and the JICWEBS standards. The big worry however is for such initiatives to be properly policed and for breechers to see tangible consequences from their misfits.

With more than a third of buyers still thinking that transparency is a barrier to investment, resources such as the IAB Europe Supply Chain Transparency Guide are proving incredibly valuable. The guide provides in fact a short cut into best practices as it includes questions that any responsible player in this ecosystem should want to answer.

Even if the general consensus is that the current situation related to Coronavirus hasn’t made transparency any less important, it’s fair to say that this unprecedented situation and the unforeseen challenges it has at times lowered transparency’s position in people’s agendas.

Speaking of involuntary consequences, drastic approaches have been seen from a large number of advertisers and marketers around blocking delivery on Coronavirus-related content and the News category as a whole. Doing so puts quality journalism at a high risk of not being able to be properly funded. It also puts brands in a position of not being able to capitalise on delivering against relevant content, at a time when the number of users visiting news sites, and taking their time in doing so, has never been so high.

Audience Q&A
The panel received lots of questions from the audience with more than they had time to answer! The panelists have provided their viewpoints on some of those questions here:

Q. What are your thoughts around recent announcements from certain DSPs requesting SSPs for a Single Supply Path to Publisher Inventory?

Emily Roberts: It’s certainly a very good step in the right direction and many more vendors are looking to follow suit. It is a great step towards greater transparency and to make the ecosystem clearer, and from a publisher perspective it works incredibly well. I would like to see more initiatives like that in the industry.

Gavin Stirrat: A lot of the transparency and trust issues that have come up in the past have not necessarily come up deliberately. They have come up because of the complexity of technology, and initiatives like this certainly help to simplify such complexity. Due to nobody’s fault we ended up having a multitude of ways to connect to publishers’ supply and that does not appear completely transparently to Demand Side Platforms. So by asking exchanges to pick a single route complexity is removed and efficiency is created, facilitating transparency into the path from demand to supply.

Q. Does blockchain play any part in programmatic supply chain transparency in the future?

Clementina Piazza: The underlying technology of blockchain has vast potential and applying blockchain to some of the aspects that underlie supply chain transparency is definitely not out of the question. There have actually been recent applications from companies like Mediaocean and Amino Payments that have partnered up to enhance the end-to-end “PO to payment” view of contractual media commitments. Doing so, they have been addressing one of the core demands from the ecosystem which is to deliver programmatic media supply chain transparency from a financial and contractual workflow perspective.

Q. Do you feel that agencies have a lot to answer for in regards to the lack of financial transparency and are using ad tech as an excuse?

Gavin Stirrat: I think that the entire value chain has a role to play in terms of where we are today and the still existing concerns. Every group of companies in the supply chain has done something which has contributed to potentially building mistrust. Every single part of the value chain has felt pressure as market-shares shifted and that sometimes pushed different groups into doing things that are not necessarily completely transparent and so there have been examples over the years that have been heavily publicised where there has undoubtedly been lack of transparency. I do think that we are moving past that world and from advertisers, to agencies, DSPs, SSPs, Exchanges and Publishers, every single group of companies now understands the areas of transparency that impact them and their direct partners.

Andrew Buckman: Everyone has a part of responsibility in this. This whole ecosystem has evolved in trying to catch up with technology and some people have taken advantage of that and some people try and run ahead of the curve to find new ways of doing business. I think that we all have now reached a state of consciousness where we have realised that to instantly take advantage of niches/gaps is no longer acceptable and that we really need to work together to ensure that each aspect is considered fairly.

Emily Roberts: I don’t think that the whole market has mistrusted. The real issue I have found with programmatic is that we have made it so much more complicated than it needs to be and that’s why we have ended up having loopholes. I don’t think that the majority of people go around the market trying to mistrust each other. From our perspective, agencies do an incredibly good job to navigate such a complicated market. And although we are now seeing changes being made that are going to help making it easier to navigate, it still is such a complicated market.

Q. When you talk about transparency, what specifically is it you’re talking about that needs to be made more transparent to users that is not currently?

Andrew Buckman: There are specific examples of this in the IAB Europe Supply Chain Transparency Guide which you access here. Transparency is about understanding the business model of the people you deal with, understanding the data they collect, what they do with it and who they share it with, and understanding the ethics and practices or your partners.

Q. Is there a difference in market drive for transparency region by region?

Ross Webster: In my experience, working with global brands, transparency and the enforcement of it goes beyond market nuances. However, I guess every market reacts to it differently.

Emily Roberts: Yes, unquestionable variations from market to market. I can only speak for EMEA but even in this region there are expansive contrasts. The highest focus on transparency can certainly be noticed in Western Europe whilst in other countries is either not so much of a priority yet or it’s ingrained from the beginning, as we can see in some of the emerging markets.

Q. Do you think due to the current pandemic, transparency is more important since advertisers want to know more and more about changing consumer behaviour?

Steve Wing: Our immediate priorities have of course shifted but transparency is as important and even more perhaps. If anything the enhanced level of scrutiny that marketers, brands and publishers are exercising around how to get through this period is making transparency even more important.

Gavin Strirrat: People care deeply about transparency, on both the sell and buy side of our ecosystem, but COVID creates amazing challenges, some more expected than others, and dealing with all of this, on top of the emotional load, has meant that, while still undoubtedly important, transparency has slipped down people’s agenda a little bit.

Ross Webster: It is also interesting to note how conversations around transparency, particularly for companies such as ourselves focused on location intelligence, are now more than ever heavily focused on the privacy side of things. As such, we have started working more and more with governmental organisations and NGOs around how to understand people’s movements. So for us it has really raised questions around what can and can’t be shared with regards to consumer’s privacy.

Q. We found that over 40% of content which references Coronavirus is not negative content, and brand suitable for many advertisers. How do you feel the brand safety approach needs to adapt from marketers during and following COVID-19?

Emily Roberts: I think it is about having that conversation with your main publishers to ask them what they are doing. No publisher wants to cause brand safety issues for an advertiser so it is important that we all come together to discuss what we can do to prevent it. I think there is also a very different conversation to be had on whether you are a platform or a publisher.

Q. As a buyer, how is it possible to ensure that my ads won’t run against negative Coronavirus articles without blacklisting Coronavirus as a keyword? Will publishers take responsibility for this?

Emily Roberts: The BBC has a list of brand safety commitments that we reassure advertisers with, so not only can we block negative Coronavirus news on our platform but we give advertisers the assurance that if they are not happy with the content they have run on we will give them their money back. I think it is vital that publishers are prepared to lay down such commitments as it shows great confidence and trust in their content.

Q. Are advertisers missing a trick by not embracing the Coronavirus for positive advertising campaigns as mentioned by Emily?

Emily Roberts: I think it is sometimes easier to avoid all content related to COVID-19 because of the scrutiny around brand safety, which from what we have previously seen in the industry is perfectly understandable. However we have seen great successes in other mediums where advertisers have embraced the positivity around the community spirit that we have all felt, which has worked really effectively.

Andrew Buckman: It is a massive miss, also because now is the time when consumers are appreciating more than ever the great work that is put in by quality media outlets, as they actually have time to read articles and opinion pieces in depth, helping them to form opinions and understanding what the big picture is. In the wake of the realisation of the damage that such drastic measures are provoking we have seen in some countries across Europe industry organisation lobbying and supporting local governments around this topic- an example is the UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden stepping in and speaking to advertisers and brands and saying that there is a need for pragmatism and to do all that is possible to prevent the negative impact that doing so has on news publishers. On top of that, the IAB, AOP, Newsworks and the IPO all issued guidance aimed at advertisers and agencies and it’s great to see that some agency groups like GroupM and Universal McCann have actually taken a stance around advising their clients against block listing all Coronavirus related articles.

Q. Advertising is a publisher’s core-business. They should have been leading transparency since the very beginning. How do you think all these transparency initiatives will impact on publishers results? What you believe is the reason behind it took so long to get started?

Steve Wing: The reason why there is still a lot to be done comes also from the fact that transparency is a huge area and it means many different things to different parties – from supply chain transparency all the way to transparency of auction dynamics, to industry standards, fraud mitigation, brand safety and even to open source initiatives like pre-bid.js, which are designed to create open, collaborative and inspectable standards with transparency baked in from the start. So, it’s a really big area and we have been good at defining all those areas that constitute it. We shall also never forget a lot of the work that has already been done, the many years people have been working hard to address issues around transparency, as we all believe that transparency grows the market and, as such, it is an absolute necessity. This is at the basis of initiatives like the IAB FAQs, launched in 2019, the  IAB Europe Supply Chain Transparency Guide, ads.txt, app-ads.txt, supply chain object, sellers.json, IAB Gold Standards and the JICWEBS standards. Many of these initiatives have had the aim of creating a neater way for brand investment to reach publishers and as such will continue to have an increasing benefit in enabling publishers to effectively monetise their inventory.

Q. Do you think the younger generation, being more clued up at an earlier age with technology and use of their information by advertisers, are a ticking time bomb to cause an ‘ad-pocolypse’ ?

Andrew Buckman: No, I think the younger generation has less qualms about sharing personal and sensitive information than people of my generation do. They are certainly more aware but I think they place less stock in the use of their data to target messaging towards them.

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