From slightly translucent to fully transparent: Can we rebuild trust in the display ecosystem?

Transparency has been a buzzword in digital marketing for decades, but with this years' Facebook scandal and its "walled-garden" approach to transparency, it seems as though it's becoming even more of a hot topic, not just for us as marketers but for consumers and brands alike. But what does transparency in digital marketing actually mean? And what does it mean for display advertising in particular? Marketers within the display ecosystem have been yearning for increased levels of transparency for years, and it finally seems that something might be changing.

As one of the fastest growing ad types in the industry, display advertising now makes up over 40% of digital ad spend. Complexity is inherent within the channel, so developments in programmatic display have only added to the mix. This, combined with the fact that display teams use various external ad tech vendors, has meant that transparency has become an issue which has been exacerbated with instances of ad fraud - something advertisers are becoming increasingly frustrated with. The language used by the industry has also led to confusion, which has impacted trust levels. To counter this, marketers are now required to accurately account for every touchpoint through the customer journey.

Ad fraud

The main way to make the customer journey accountable is through the analysis of key metrics. However, as impressions are one of the most commonly adopted metrics for display ads, ad fraud has become a bit of an issue. Is the impression being served to an actual human or is it a robot viewing your ads? Bots have polluted the quality of the display sector as a whole, costing the industry over £6 billion in 2017. Ad fraud has therefore posed an existential threat to the ad tech industry, leading to a reinforcement in the battle against bots. Things are becoming more transparent as advertisers are becoming more accountable, with a recent report revealing levels of ad fraud are down 31% due to the increased levels of transparency and increased vigilance from vendors.


Not only is there an issue with bots viewing ads, but there's the possibility that your ads might be out of view all together. Impressions are often counted when an ad appears below the line and out of view of the user. In the past, around 50% of display ads weren't viewable, but now most channels have changed so that you don't pay for the impressions unless they're viewable by the user. The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers has recently called for brands to be given the option of buying ads in 100% view. So, things are becoming more transparent in this area - but there's still a long way to go.

Brand safety

Even Google wasn't able to demonstrate a clean record when it came to brand safety in display, with brands like Mercedes-Benz and Waitrose appearing alongside terrorist content on YouTube. Companies like the IAS use measurement and blocking technology to make sure ads don't serve on pages which are considered unsafe or inappropriate. Additionally, there's the risk that your ads appear in poor quality environments, so it's important that advertisers are transparent in letting brands know where their ads have been shown.

Change in metrics

Because of the lack of transparency, metrics are evolving and changing to become more reliable. For example, video advertisers are moving away from click-through rates to focus on completion rates as bots can click on your ads too, although Google have minimised this a lot. This means campaign objectives are shifting from driving clicks to sustaining viewers' attention - which could in turn mean better quality display ads.

Improve efficiency

Transparency is key, not only to examine any existing flaws, but also to explore the existing positive insights and determine how these can be amplified and made actionable. This can be done not only in display, but throughout digital advertising, from paid search to SEO. Transparency shouldn't be seen as a way of exposing inaccuracies, but rather as a means of providing more accurate analyses which can be used to improve every stage of the process, leading to greater effectiveness overall.

As things move forward and people demand greater transparency, what more will be required to share? It'll be interesting to see how things evolve in terms of transparency, particularly with the current action being taken to make things more accountable.

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