Transparency in Adtech Part One: Ensuring Media Quality

Transparency in Adtech Part One: Ensuring Media Quality

Mike Miller, SVP Addressable Strategy & Activation

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is the auditor behind the landmark ISBA Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study, which was first published in the UK back in 2020, and was followed up by a second report in January of this year. So the news that the same company would be teaming up with Tag TrustNet and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) to work on a similar adtech transparency study in the US was met with anticipation across the ecosystem.

It’s true there have been a few hurdles and delays since that news broke, with many interested clients finding it difficult to participate due to a limited list of qualifying tech vendors. But the data collection window has now closed with the final report slated for release in April 2023. Although Matterkind did not participate in the study itself, we feel it’s important to share our perspective on the major themes we expect to see in the report, and outline what we’re doing as a company to address those important subjects.

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be posting a series of articles about transparency in the adtech ecosystem, including some of the issues we feel may come up in the ANA findings, and how these can be resolved.

As media quality is likely to be a central theme of the report, we’ll start by delving into three major aspects of this subject: avoiding unauthorized resellers, implementing brand safety measures, and factoring in sustainability.

Avoiding unauthorized resellers

It’s been five years (and five iterations) since the IAB Tech Lab released the ads.txt standard to combat fraud and arbitrage by allowing publishers to signal authorized sellers of their inventory. So, at this point there’s really no good reason for anyone to be buying from unauthorized resellers. But the ANA report may reiterate the importance of the role this simple technology plays in cleaning up the supply chain.

At Matterkind, 100% of our display, video, and mobile impressions are sourced from authorized direct or authorized reseller inventory. We only run on ads.txt-compliant inventory on the open exchange, and our Kinesso-generated allow lists use only ads.txt-compliant domains and apps.

While ads.txt taxonomy can vary from one DSP to another, most major players block unauthorized impressions by default and provide the option to block unknown or non-participating publishers. Likewise, all major SSPs should only be doing business with ads.txt-enabled publishers. Even so, it’s important to confirm that these settings are in place via manual reporting. On the rare occasion that we do find impressions going to unknown domains or apps, they are flagged to our team and added to advertiser blocklists.

We also leverage private marketplaces (PMPs) and addressable guaranteed deals wherever they make sense for our clients’ strategy and KPIs, and especially in emerging channels such as connected TV (CTV) or digital out-of-home (DOOH) where fraud standards are still taking shape. The ANA report will likely recommend leveraging these buy types wherever possible due to their role in increasing publisher revenue, enabling supply-path optimization (SPO), and improving brand safety.

While we generally agree with this viewpoint, we also believe that the open exchange continues to play an important role in driving cost efficiency, and that finding the right balance for each campaign is the best practice.

Implementing brand safety measures

Brand safety remains a hot topic across the industry, and there are a growing range of controls advertisers can implement to minimize risk, increase their comfort with digital media, and ensure ads don’t end up associated with content that could damage their brand. Continuing with the quality theme, there’s a high likelihood the ANA report will recommend advertisers have a robust brand safety strategy in place, including the use of a third-party ad verification (3PAV) vendor.

We fully support this view, and we apply comprehensive brand safety settings to campaigns for all clients. At the pre-bid stage these include US-wide universal exclusion lists as a first line of defense, in addition to brand-specific site, app, keyword, and contextual category inclusions or exclusions to ensure that our impression delivery aligns with brand guidelines. We also use any custom settings offered by individual DSPs.
At the post-bid stage, we ensure 3PAV reporting is monitored frequently and optimized by real people to ensure block rates and viewability are meeting our Matterkind standards, as well as any client benchmarks.

Factoring in sustainability

Sustainability may not be a new topic in the wider world, but it’s a relatively recent entrant to the digital media quality conversation and is something that may possibly be highlighted by the ANA report. Put simply, the more addressable auctions that are run, the more power is used, the greater the resulting carbon emissions, and the lower the sustainability of the entire process.

We already have an inherent level of sustainability baked into our standard operating procedure due to the overlap and duplicative auctions reduced or eliminated by our total-path optimization (TPO) and SPO approaches, which we’ll discuss in more detail in our next article.

Kinesso Marketplace is working closely with carbon emission measuring partners to have a full understanding of Matterkind’s addressable campaigns. We are working on building solutions that can help capture and reduce carbon emissions. Our first offering is the Carbon Neutral marketplace, that offers PMPs that will measure and capture the amount of carbon emitted, this will be done via highly durable carbon credits. We will continue to explore new partners and opportunities, like IPG Mediabrands’ partnership with Scope3 and Green Media Products, as sustainable media becomes an integral part of digital campaigns.

Making progress in media quality

Transparency in adtech and improvements in media quality are goals we are all working towards and, with the measures outlined above, we feel that significant progress is being made. Indeed, the latest ISBA report has (in its own words) “revealed positive and welcome improvements”. It will be interesting to see whether the ANA report supports this view and whether these measures are being adhered to across the industry.

In the meantime, look out for our next article which will focus on understanding value throughout the ecosystem through TPO.