Let’s Be Clear About Transparency

frostprioleaurevised“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Frost Prioleau, CEO and co-founder of Simpli.fi.

If you search Google for “transparency + ad tech,” you’ll get more than 20 million search results.

Nearly every network, DSP and publisher claims they deliver transparency to their customers. But if you ask someone in the industry to define transparency, you may hear something akin to Chief Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity: We can’t define it, but we know it when we see it.

But do we?

Finding Our Focus

While there is definitely demand for visible data, the real need doesn’t stop there. What advertisers really want is visible success. They want to see all information related to their campaigns and have a clear line of sight from the data to the achievement of their business objectives.

They need the media equivalent of a phoropter, the multi-lens instrument an optometrist adjusts until the patient can see clearly. A media-buying phoropter would have four transparent lenses that allow advertisers to clearly assess a campaign’s effectiveness by measuring multiple parameters. The lenses would scrutinize impression, data, tactical and financial transparency.

The Four Lenses Of Transparency

1. Impression transparency

This lens would provide a clear view of all details related to the delivery and performance of an ad served on the domain level. Impression transparency includes the precise number of impressions, clicks and conversions delivered by each domain upon which the ad was shown, and the media costs associated with each domain.

In the past, some sellers would just deliver a list of domains where their campaigns might serve, without the details on how ads were served when and where.

In some cases, programmatic platforms can only report the total number of impressions delivered through a network rather than detailed performance metrics on individual domains. This is because domains are bundled under network names, such as Microsoft Advertising Exchange or anonymous.google.com. Hopefully we will gain more site transparency as programmatic becomes more established and publishers become comfortable with monetizing their inventory through various programmatic channels, RTB in particular.

Viewability metrics also fall under this lens. While there are still several issues with measuring actual viewability in an RTB environment, reliable viewability tracking will have a big impact on driving more accurate attribution and in turn, more effective campaigns.

2. Data transparency

In search marketing, advertisers know exactly how each keyword performs, and can bid individual keywords up and down based on performance. In many cases, however, display ads are served against opaque audience segments, such as soccer mom or auto intender, but advertisers don’t know what the user did to get placed into that segment, or when they did it. This makes it very difficult to understand why campaigns are performing or failing, and to optimize for best results.

Whether the data is a search term, a page visited or a product purchase record from a CRM database, data transparency calls for understanding precisely what action a user took that is causing them to be targeted, and when they took that action. The “when” is important because consideration cycles vary widely between different products. The data recency required to optimize a campaign for a short consideration service, such as an emergency plumber, is very different than what is used for a longer consideration item, such as  variable rate mortgage.

3. Tactical transparency

Advertisers should be able to understand the tactics used to place their ads so they can see which methods drive performance and avoid duplication from multiple vendors.

For example, conversion tactics, such as site retargeting or CRM targeting, are often mixed in with various prospecting techniques like search or contextual retargeting in an effort to improve performance of the prospecting campaigns. Advertisers need to know what tactics their various partners use so they can accurately calculate ROI and attribution for each.

4. Financial transparency

While this lens seems essential to understanding the value of programmatic marketing, curiously, many advertisers fly blind without detailed financial information.

Does the advertiser know exactly where and how their dollars are being spent? How much of the budget is spent on media vs. data vs. platform fee vs. other charges?

Whether the customer is an agency or advertiser, full financial transparency helps to effectively distribute an advertising budget across the most effective channels.

Visible Data Leads To Visible Success

Many vendors offer a view through one of these transparency lenses but true focus comes when all of lenses are perfectly calibrated together.

Just like with the phoropter, one missing lens can make the difference between 20/20 vision and stumbling around. The more lenses a vendor can — or is willing to — offer, the more likely you will receive the right prescription for visible success.

Follow Frost Prioleau (@phrossed), Simpli.fi (@Simpli_fi) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. Roger Williams

    Totally agree Frost. ‘Transparency’ is very similar to ‘programmatic’ in the sense everyone had a differing interpretation of what it means. I also think there’s a fifth lens of transparency that ultimately needs to be taken into account and that relates to consumers transparency and the need for the industry to continue to work to ensure we are more open about the collection and use of consumer data. Recent activity such as the IAPP Privacy Summit and the EU’s overhaul of data protection legislation highlight how important such transparency is in the eyes of the legislators.

  2. Roger- Great point. This was written from the eyes of an advertiser, but from the eyes of a consumer there are definitely a different set of lenses to be considered!

  3. “What advertisers really want is visible success. They want to see all information related to their campaigns and have a clear line of sight from the data to the achievement of their business objectives.”–Well said.

    Advertisers “should” want this but as you know in many instances this clear line of sight is oftentimes lacking and they are willing to go “blind”.