Making Transparency Real

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

Today’s column is written by Eric Porres, CMO at Lotame.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the need for data transparency. That makes sense: With the increasing value of data collected over the course of an online marketing campaign, the need for transparency has only gone up.

Yet there are also a few stories about major publishers who deny that placements on their site could actually have been placed there, and about networks that are opaque about where and how they place ads. Transparency in online advertising is more complicated in practice than in theory – there’s always a catch. Add in the growing data-collection market segment, and the first impulse may simply be to shrug and write off transparency as a pipe-dream.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Transparency is an important goal – and one any media buyer should aim for. In figuring out how to get there, it’s worth evaluating what the market looks like today.

There’s Data – and then there’s Data…

Two of the major complications affecting data transparency are the growth of available data points and sources. Not long ago, marketers focused on “singular data points” – think purchase intent, household income, gender, and so on. While this type of consumer data has been and will continue to be immensely valuable, the industry is now seeing the addition of other exceptionally promising “multi-variant data points,” borne out of a re-examination and classification of publisher page data. In particular, a premium opportunity exists for publishers to create value from kinetic page activity, namely, the ability for a consumer these days to interact with content beyond passive page consumption.

Consider purchase intent. Knowing that a consumer looked at an online retail site and ought to see ads related to their interest in purchasing jeans is one thing – but creating long-term engagement with a consumer based on her continuous online habits, interest, and actions is quite another. Singular data points are no longer enough. As the industry continues to improve on data mining and other sophisticated data-usage techniques, there’s an explosion of “multi-variant data points.”

Moving – Slowly – Towards Standardization

Adding in multi-variant data points, of course, only ups the ante on transparency and the need for verification. To be fair, the ad-serving side of the business has always been in the “verification” game, insofar as part of its role was to objectively keep track of impressions, clicks and conversations. Nonetheless, the major ad networks and multi-title publishing entities fell behind when it came to providing their advertising partners with truly clear and open verification tools, something that has recently led to the growth of third-party verification providers such as DoubleVerify, AdSafe, and AdXpose.

At some point the major networks are going to catch up to the trend and incorporate the transparency and verification tools currently provided by third parties. At the moment, though, the multitude of competing methodologies can easily lead to conflict. Imagine an advertiser, publisher and network setting up verification services with three entirely different third-party companies, all of whom count and measure data differently. How can these three parties agree on outcomes?

A lack of market standardization also remains a problem in relation to publisher Terms of Services. In general, publisher TOS’s tend to be unclear on issues of data transparency and access, and to vary greatly from one network to another. Given the ever-increasing value of data – especially multi-variate kinetic data – some major buyers have made moves to retain control of such data. Over time, the market is most likely to come around to advertiser needs, and the IAB’s recently updated “Standard Terms and Conditions for Internet Advertising v3.0” is just one example of an attempt to clarify questions of data transparency and access. For the moment, though, it’s up to individual buyers to make the best of the situation.

Solutions are Available

In looking for the transparency needle in the ever-growing haystack of online networks and data providers, buyers ought to remember that not all verification services are created equal. Over time, the data marketplace will reward the companies that provide the most transparency – down to the level of individual behaviors and multi-variant data points.

Follow Eric Porres (@eporres), Lotame (@lotame) and ( on Twitter.

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