ISBA study is important, but not a practical solution for most of us

ISBA study is important, but not a practical solution for most of us

Advertisers need to be realistic and focus on the tools that can increase the efficiency of their advertising today.


In January this year, the second study by ISBA and PwC was released, designed to test the progress made from the initial ground-breaking study in 2020. Whilst the latest report showed some positive improvements — with publishers increasing their portion of media spend by 8% (65%), and unattributable media spending decreasing to 3% on average, from a staggering 15% — it highlighted that there is still a need for greater accountability and transparency in the programmatic advertising supply chain.

However, this new study has failed to offer a practical solution for advertisers.

Auditing supply chains is a lengthy process and, by the time an end-to-end audit is completed, it’s not necessarily worth the time or investment spent on it. The data will be outdated and the marketplace will have moved on.

Nor is it a true representation of the broader programmatic ecosystem as it only focuses on a subset of premium advertisers, publishers and well-established SSPs.

Advertisers need to be realistic and focus on the tools that can increase the efficiency of their advertising today. With the programmatic advertising landscape becoming more complicated and fragmented, advertisers are being increasingly challenged in making their campaigns more effective and efficient.

Marketers need to upskill in accessing and managing data

The first step is gaining access to log-level data, as this is crucial for getting visibility into what’s happening in the supply chain and is a core pillar of supply path optimisation (SPO). It allows publishers access to transaction data including vendor fees, whilst buyers can plan more efficiently, helping to limit the likelihood of any shadowy behaviour. However, this can be tricky as adtech firms are not set up to provide this access and marketers don’t know how to ask for it.

Most DSPs limit the information they share about impressions won, whilst SSPs often do not reveal the full extent of relationships with publishers. Factors such as data privacy, data ownership rights and the terms of the platform agreement, will all determine how much data marketers have access to. With little to no standardisation of formatting in how the data is presented and shared, this can also mean no consistency in the results.

Whilst log-level data can provide valuable insights, it can also contain errors and discrepancies which can affect its accuracy. Advertisers would need to set up a system to monitor and validate logs to reduce the risk of incomplete or missing data, errors or bugs in the code, or time synchronisation issues, which can all result in inaccurate data.

Using this data requires marketers to have a deep knowledge of analysis to understand these large and complex data sets. It also requires specialised technology to crunch through the volumes needed to extract insights and identify trends. For marketers who do not have a background in data analysis, computer science or related fields, interpreting this data can be difficult and may require working with data analysts or data scientists to understand how to extract key metrics and insights.

Due to the volume of log-level data, it is often stored in different systems and formats, which also comes at a cost. Marketers need to know what they are doing, because there needs to be considerable investment into storing, analysing and actioning the data, and often the time spent on doing this is not always worth the cost.

Marketers need to invest in building direct relationships with publishers

The advertising market is highly fragmented, which means advertisers can find it challenging to identify the best publishers and platforms to work with. Advertisers may also find they are competing for the attention of publishers who have a limited ad inventory on offer including fewer featured platforms.

Advertisers need to build trust with the publishers they work with to execute successful campaigns. They need to be confident that publishers are being fully transparent in reporting or sharing insights to ensure that their campaigns are being fully optimised.

The increased use of audience targeting has placed a priority on who should see the message over where they should see the message. For advertisers, typically the focus is on driving performance whereas for publishers the goal is to generate revenue and deliver traffic to the website. Therefore, advertisers and publishers should be aligned on what they want to achieve which comes from building a relationship based on respect and collaboration.

Whilst advertisers may have limited resources available to them to dedicate to building relationships with publishers, these relationships will need to be built, maintained and audited regularly to stay competitive in an open marketplace.

Agencies need to step up to provide this kind of support

The role of the agency is constantly evolving with more emphasis being placed on ‘accountability’ for the effectiveness of campaigns, not just their creation and execution. Therefore, agencies are under pressure to provide measurable results to justify their costs and demonstrate ROI.

Advertisers have become used to being able to do simple media planning and buying without the need of their agency. This has resulted in a shift to advertisers taking more control of their media operating model, having trusted it in the hands of the agencies they work with for so long. We have seen the ownership of DSP seats move from agencies to advertisers as they look to gain better control of how their programmatic advertising is being managed, including the ability to make real-time adjustments to campaigns.

Where agencies have the opportunity to step up is by providing technical support to advertisers when it comes to better visibility of how budgets are allocated, and spend and fees across all partners and vendors, as well as analysing data. With the move from cookies to a reliance on first-party data modelling, advertisers want the ability to have access to data to optimise campaigns and improve performance, but the reality is few have the skills needed to deal with the complexity of data analysis required.

With 65% of brand marketers believing that traditional media agencies do not have the technical expertise required and 35% feeling that agencies are not providing enough strategic growth – this is where agencies can really provide value to the next wave of advanced advertisers.

The role of the agency could also be revived acting as a mediator between publishers and advertisers. This would allow brands to hold relationships with key publishers directly, with agencies helping navigate the complex landscape of programmatic advertising.

Nick Graham is a senior consultant at digital marketing agency Kepler

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