What has adtech ever done for us?
If you’ve seen Life of Brian – compulsory viewing in the 1970s and 1980s – you’ll know what I’m talking about here. It was this sketch that I was reminded of recently, reading headlines of wasted online adspend within the programmatic supply chain.
Like the Monty Python boys bemoaning the Romans with their aqueducts and sanitation and roads (not forgetting the wine, of course), there is a tendency in our industry to overlook the benefits of adtech and unquestioningly chalk up investment in it as "waste".
So I’m going to start by posing a couple of questions. Does the supply chain need to work together to improve transparency within the digital ad ecosystem? Yes.
Does adtech and the programmatic buying it enables offer advertisers essential and valuable services? Also yes.
From Marc Pritchard’s speech in 2017 to ISBA’s recent study with PwC, achieving greater programmatic transparency has long been, and remains, a pressing priority for our industry – it's fundamental to building a sustainable future for digital advertising and the publishers it supports.
In recent years, we’ve made significant steps via initiatives such as the Internet Advertising Bureau Gold Standard (to reduce ad fraud, increase brand safety and improve the online ad experience) and tools such as IAB Tech Lab’s sellers.json and OpenRTB SupplyChain Object (to remove anonymity in the supply chain and improve transparency for buyers). But we’re under no illusion that more still needs to be done to collectively bring about greater change.
Which is where Monty Python comes in. To achieve this, we have got to take a balanced view and appreciate that – despite its complexity – adtech does have value and does deliver benefits for advertisers, publishers and consumers.
Dismissing all spend attributed to adtech as waste and the programmatic supply chain as fundamentally fraudulent, as some commentators have, is short-sighted and essentially wrong.
This is an argument that doesn’t get made often and, given the level of condemnation that programmatic has received recently, I’m aware that this view may prove to be less than popular – but it needs saying.
While the anti-adtech rhetoric that paints programmatic as the murky pariah of the digital ad industry makes for a compelling story, the reality is less linear.
It’s clear from ISBA’s study that there is work to be done to improve transparency within the programmatic supply chain – including exploring the 15% "spend delta" identified – but that doesn’t take away from the fact that adtech’s services are crucial to both digital advertisers and publishers, and that they continue to be worth investing in.
Consider for a moment where an open market would be without adtech. There would be no brand-safety controls. No sophisticated targeting capabilities and no accurate measurement – all of which work to make brands’ spend more effective. Some publishers, without the ability to efficiently monetise impressions at scale, would be hit hard.
So while it might be an uncomfortable union, our view of the programmatic supply chain needs to be broad enough to encompass both the fact that improved programmatic transparency is needed and that adtech delivers many benefits for advertisers and, when used smartly, the consumer experience.
This is crucial as we embark on the next stage of this process with our members and industry partners – coming together to evaluate the current ecosystem and build collaborative solutions.
By working together, it’s in our power to both improve supply-chain transparency and protect the valuable role that adtech plays. We all have a role to play in achieving this. The future of our open, diverse, ad-funded web relies on it.
Jon Mew is chief executive of Internet Advertising Bureau UK