The past, present and future of Ad Tech Transparency

When it comes to ad tech, transparency is often on the agenda of any discussion and is a real concern for buyers. Both advertisers and agencies agree there’s an issue, but tend to blame each other for transparency issues. Transparency, or rather the lack of it, has arguably been a blight on the industry, so to build credibility and trust, the whole industry needs to pull together if we’re to maintain the levels of growth experienced thus far.

For the buyer, the key is trust. In an age of automation and a digital reign over the media supply chain, brands are losing autonomy over how their ad spend is being distributed. Transparency in digital advertising is important from two perspectives: cost and inventory. If the ad buyer doesn’t have a handle on theses, not only can they be subject to mystery fees and mark-ups, their ad campaigns can be victims of fraudulent traffic or can end up on websites that are less than reputable.

In the past

Ours is a rapidly growing industry, so it’s no wonder that we’ve had issues along the way. It certainly wasn’t unheard of for advertisers to be handing over huge budgets to agencies without really knowing exactly what was being spent on what. In the worst case, their ad content could be displayed in environments that would threaten brand integrity, or be shown to fraudulent audiences on spoofed domains.

Fortunately the advent of protocols like ads.txt and sellers.json mean that advertisers have a much better idea of where their content is being displayed and who sees it.


Transparency in ad tech today focuses of a range of areas, but the three key concerns are:

Supply-chain: Understanding the supply-chain, or more specifically, auction dynamics and being able to see and understand bid stream data. This might come in the form of full publisher URL transparency for the DSP and buyers. This allows them to take decisions to optimise campaign performance more effectively.

Fee structures: It was easy for advertisers to throw cash down a black hole without really knowing exactly how much was being spent on what element of service. Now, it’s essential to know how much of the ad spend goes to tech partners like SSPs and third parties, and how much is being charged in fees.

Inventory quality: Providing the advertiser with access to inventory that’s not only brand-safe, but made up of real audiences helps deliver against on-target campaign objectives. When this is clear and demonstrable, that trust relationship between the advertiser and agency really is strengthened.

Looking towards the future

So, what does the future hold for ad tech transparency? There’s sure to be a focus among industry bodies on work that will bring all stakeholders into line and continue to build trust among buyers. This will result in buy-side and leading independent ad tech companies to operate impartially outside of closed ecosystems. However, we still need to see a push for transparency among agencies.

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