Promoting transparency and accountability in the adtech supply chain

By Paul Wright CEO at iotec

The digital advertising industry has been in the spotlight a lot recently. After a series of high profile ad scandals, concerns around transparency and lack of brand safety, there is a certain about of scepticism over what the future holds.

To regain the trust of clients and consumers, the adtech industry must make a conscious effort to tackle the issue at its source. In order to rebalance the ecosystem and make it truly work for all stakeholders, it’s time for advertisers to take on a crucial role in overhauling the entire digital media supply chain.

This is, of course, no easy undertaking. There is no doubt that the challenge is multi-faceted: we’ve even heard first-hand from brands that the industry needs to establish a new code of ethics, and work more closely with trade bodies to encourage industry-wide adoption of a more transparent, ‘ethical adtech’ approach.

Affecting wholesale change won’t happen without shared understanding of the problem, and what the solution — a more ethical adtech industry — actually looks like. So as stakeholders begin tackling the problem, it’s important to hone in on what ethical adtech really adds up to. To me, it means a digital media industry where publishers get the right value for their inventory with unobtrusive ad formats, and advertisers are able to buy valid, fraud-free inventory, which poses no risk to the safety of their brand and consumers data is used responsibly.

Reaching that ideal will require a range of measures, which can broadly be distilled down to three key areas of action: transparency, accountability and fair trading.

1. Transparency
Firstly, we need to promote transparency right across the digital media supply chain with a few key steps:

  • Pricing is an important starting point. Adtech vendors need to communicate clear details of rebates, costs and margins in relation to media spend budgets, including itemised breakdowns of third-party service provider costs. This needs to be the new-normal, or the search for transparency won’t get far.
  • Adtech suppliers also need to provide clear information of all media placement. This includes where ads are placed, and in what context, is it a native ad, a pop up or a banner, for example?
  • Clear information on data usage needs to be provided at every step of the digital media supply chain — what data is being collected, and where is it being stored? More fundamentally, how will it be used and by whom?
  • Optimisation — advertisers need to provide clarification around their strategy to target media. A truly transparent provider will be able to grant full access to insights, allowing you to analyse how a campaign was optimised.

2. Accountability through supplier audits
We all need to work more closely with industry bodies to hold suppliers accountable. Continuously auditing vendors will at least partly ensure they work to a robust level of transparency. 
ISBA has recently launched a new version of its industry-changing Media Services Framework as part of a broader initiative to strengthen relationships between brands and their agencies. To ensure brand protection, brands should look to work with companies audited by the likes of JICWEBS DTSG for brand safety compliance, and JICWEBS Anti-Fraud for ad fraud monitoring.

3. Fair trading
It may sound obvious, but brands can play a critical role in the shift towards ethical adtech by selecting their partners carefully through a rigorous process that places high value on transparency and accountability. The selection process should be based on merit through a tender or RFI process.

To avoid making a biased decision, clients should be presented with a wide choice of media and technology partners, with selections made or recommended with their interests, not those of the vendor, in mind.

Ultimately, the resolution of an ethical, transparent adtech industry will only happen is there is a coordinated effort from all parties in the digital media supply chain. The steps above will certainly help kickstart the shift, but there will be more challenges for brands, suppliers and trade bodies to come.

Above all the time is right for an honest, productive conversation around how we can align the incentives of different stakeholders within the ad industry. That type of discussion will, without doubt, lead to action. And if that action is based on a better, collective understanding of what ethical adtech really means, then the future remains bright for the adtech industry.