Transparency at IAB Annual Leadership Meeting: Three Ways the Ad Industry is Improving

The following is a guest contributed post by Tim Mahlman, President, Head of Advertiser and Publisher Strategy, Oath

At IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting, Unilever’s Keith Weed reiterated the importance of trust in digital advertising. Brands are demanding more openness and accountability. Fraud, viewability and brand safety are just a few of the concerns that have driven the desire for greater transparency in the ecosystem.

The industry still has ways to go in delivering on these demands. But transparency in digital is rapidly improving. Here are three areas, in particular, that are helping to bring about a new, more transparent era, hailed by Unilever, P&G, and others.

Third-party verification is table stakes

Today, advertisers are more interested than ever in how partners are spending their money. The biggest are reviewing media contracts in the hopes of getting more transparency and data from agency, vendor and publisher relationships. In response, the ecosystem is wholly embracing third-party verification. So much, in fact, that it’s becoming the industry standard. Now, a whopping 97 percent of advertisers want independent measurement of their media buys from companies like Moat and comScore — and they’re only going with partners who allow this. This is why the duopoly, after being hesitant about third-party verification in the past, is finally feeling the pressure. Third-party audits are simply table stakes today, enabling a new depth of transparency.

However, it is important to note that there is room to improve here. While third-party verification prevents agencies, vendors and sellers from having to grade their own homework, there are still questions to be answered. Third-party providers still need to be challenged to deliver more standardized reporting and metrics to cut down on discrepancy, while platforms must continue investing in their own technology to eliminate fraud and other issues.

Publishers will adopt ads.txt en masse and this is just the beginning of our industry being more transparent

Last year, the IAB launched ads.txt to bring more transparency to the programmatic supply chain. This is a more secure way for publishers to publicly identify the platforms authorized to sell their inventory, helping to limit bad actors. The idea is that as more publishers adopt ads.txt and post it to their domains, advertisers can avoid counterfeit inventory and have more confidence in what they buy.

This year, ads.txt adoption is going to explode among publishers. This was echoed at IAB ALM, by several of the biggest media companies. And while adoption is still relatively low right now, advertisers are increasingly demanding more tools for transparency. They want an accurate representation of media impressions and who is selling them. And they want to safeguard against counterfeit inventory through arbitrage and spoofing. Ads.txt helps. My company, Oath, supported ads.txt early on, knowing it would quickly become a game-changer. And we have already implemented it across our properties. We are also collaborating with publishers and approved resellers, and will begin enforcing ads.txt across all platforms, filtering inventory on domains where DSPs buy. But this is just the beginning. More advancements will roll out over the course of 2018 to protect advertisers’ media spend.

Vendors will be held to a higher standard

Today, advertisers want more from their technology platforms. In fact, they want more than just technology. They want trust. It’s not enough to simply activate data or offer distribution at scale. Demand-side platforms have to be more than just the pipes today. A lot more. Providing access to brand-safe, premium content is a game changer. With brand safety issues around the duopoly, many advertisers and agencies are concerned. It’s time to rebuild their confidence and trust. As a partner, it’s critical to be able to touch all aspects of a campaign: content, data and distribution. This is an unbeatable combination and it simplifies the digital supply chain, boosting transparency. Brand builders know that they need all three to be successful and the platforms that deliver against these needs will win in 2018. This is what I kept hearing in Palm Desert.

As we move ahead in 2018, transparency will continue to be a major concern in digital. But third-party verification, initiatives like ads.txt and the evolution of vendors relationships, are three ways our category is meeting advertiser demands.