AppLift Thought Series: Do Advertisers Really Understand Transparency?

Welcome to the AppLift Thought Series where our readers will get to read perspectives from key people within AppLift on all things mobile.

An edited version of this article was first published on AdExchanger.

Digital advertisers say they want transparency, but I’m not sure many would know what to do with it once they got it.

There are misconceptions about what transparency even means. For example, it is not a list of where your ad runs. In mobile programmatic, when your ads are running on thousands – even tens of thousands – of sites, pages and apps, what good would that do? No human can make heads or tails of that much data, especially when you add all the potential control levers, such as ad format, size, creative, device type or connection speed.

Some advertisers balk when they don’t recognize every site on their list and ask to only run ads with a select number of publishers. Then they lose their ability to scale and compromise performance.

Some advertisers ask for transparency in terms of cost. They want to know what percentage of their budget goes to buying media. But they must also pay for the technology that makes the media buying possible. Instead, when customers are given the pricing transparency they want, they often challenge it.

I understand that between digital ad fraud and ad tech players who overpromise but underdeliver, advertisers do have reason to be suspicious. And it doesn’t help that this is an opaque industry. They are forking over big money and trusting that they are getting something in return.

But it seems like once we have opened up that black box and let advertisers peek in, they suddenly doubt ad tech’s value. It seemed to be worth it to them when they saw only the upside of performance and the elevated KPIs. Why are marketers no longer sold on the value of tech?

Focus on Performance

Many advertisers are content with the simplified dashboards provided by large platforms that make them feel in control but actually show very little. Advertisers need to accept that there is no way for humans to be in control when they are buying millions of impressions. That level of data is not something a human can sit down and analyze. That is why they need ad tech.

Ten years ago, brands or agencies might have asked to see a screenshot of their ad running on a certain media platform. I understand why they were asking, but that was such a telling request. If you bought a fraction of a site’s traffic, what are the odds you will view your ad?

It is not like the old days of television when media buyers could turn on the TV, confident they would see their commercial. Searching for an ad is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I get it: Marketers want some tangible proof that they got what they paid for. A screenshot is not transparency, but surprisingly, I sometimes still get asked for one.

What advertisers should focus on is performance. They will know their ads were seen when they see the results. It doesn’t matter if they have not heard of the URL where their ad is running; what matters is that their campaign is working.

Time to Study Up

Ad tech companies should be willing to provide absolute transparency, but for transparency to have value, marketers need to understand the technological aspects of what they are buying. They need to get to a point where they can compare one technology to another.

As an ad tech provider, I can tell you I am not interested in providing managed services forever. I want to sell our technology. That is the evolution of ad tech and what providers in the space aspire to. But based on the questions and comments I hear when marketers look behind the ad tech curtain, we have a long way to go.

The root for this probably comes from years of habit – back-room deals, kickbacks, “bonus impressions” and the fact that the industry is still referred to as “ad tech.” Digital marketing, particularly mobile marketing, is not branding, and it’s definitely not advertising. It is marketing sales automation.

The onus is on technology, not the cachet of a publisher. It is about taking a data-centric approach to acquiring and engaging with users to generate ROI. If marketers do it right, they will generate predictable results that justify their spend. It becomes risk-free spending, but only if marketers can trust in the technology.