Redefining Transparency

Joanna L. O’Connell is Manager of Strategic Development, ATOM Systems, Razorfish.

the executionerThe word “transparency” seems to be everyone’s favorite word these days. Clients want it, publishers fear it, and networks – increasingly – boast that they offer it. I’d like to propose that we’re thinking about this word in the wrong way and suggest that we as an industry consider changing our definition.

First, some background. In my previous life as a media supervisor, I spent most of my days working on campaigns featuring 5 to 15 3rd party ad networks at any given time. While our network-heavy plans generally performed well from a direct response standpoint, they didn’t tell us much about what was working and why. From an optimization standpoint, I was very limited, making poorly-informed, surface-level optimization decisions which never seemed to lead to the same result (“let’s cut the 728×90’s… no wait, let’s put those back in…no wait!”). While maybe we knew what sites we “might” be running on thanks to the fully transparent site list we sometimes received, we never knew what was actually happening and why so we could learn and repeat it.

It was with much enthusiasm, then, that I approached the exchange landscape as a buyer. While the exchanges didn’t seem to offer much in the way of site-level transparency, they did offer the promise of direct control, insight and repeatability–all the elements which I’d been missing in my experience with networks. For the first time, I had access to a multitude of optimization levers never before at my disposal: things like geo, time of day, day of week, not to mention ad size and creative concept. I was able to “see under the hood” of my exchange campaigns and could finally start to answer the big question: what kinds of impressions convert and at what price should I buy them? I could make repeatable buying decisions, not to mention share new insights, time after time. This was a wholly different kind of transparency.

Certainly, I understand the desire to answer the question, “Yes, but where are my ads running?” And, I absolutely believe that serving as good stewards of clients’ brands by keeping their advertising out of questionable or otherwise unsavory content is paramount. But being able to answer all kinds of other important questions that tap into the heart of what’s driving campaign success or failure is a great leap forward, no matter how you cut it.

That said, buyers will continue to push for site level transparency and, as was the case in the network space, the exchanges will likely evolve to be more “transparent” in the traditional sense. But I would hate for buyers – and their clients – to miss out on a totally new kind of transparency that is available right now on the exchanges.

Follow Razorfish (@Razorfish) and (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

Enjoying this content?

Sign up to be an AdExchanger Member today and get unlimited access to articles like this, plus proprietary data and research, conference discounts, on-demand access to event content, and more!

Join Today!


  1. Joanna, all great points. Transparency is certainly on its way as exchanges become strategic to publishers but in the meantime, as you point out, there is a level of transparency already on the exchanges that surpasses most other techniques.

  2. I should have read your piece before commenting on the Hill Holiday piece. Totally agree that there’s lots to be had through the exchanges, even before transparency takes hold universally.

  3. Exactly right Joanna, without transparency there is nothing we can do to optimize. Thankfully RTB seems to be solving this problem very quickly. It seems that every day we see more transparent inventory- on a site, placement, and user level- in the RTB exchanges than the day before.