Redefining Transparency in the Ad Industry

By Jacek Chrusciany, CEO and Co-Founder of Adfidence

The term “transparency” gets tossed around a lot in our industry. Perhaps it is no surprise when ANA ranks it as #3 in its annual “word of the year” study – as it did last month.

However, as MediaPost’s Joe Mandese also recently noted, how the ad industry interprets transparency is not quite as straightforward as it is in other industries, especially regulated ones.

Instead, the ad industry standard is to limit visibility to certain specific stakeholders, such as advertisers and agencies – mainly for competitive advantage within that group.

And who pays the price for this arrangement? Brands, mainly. They are the ones who continue to tolerate this “fraction of every programmatic dollar” reaching its intended destination. They accept the final metrics as the indicators of success, without ever knowing the true impact of their work.

What if we as an industry committed instead to delivering comprehensive brand insights with every ad placement – before those campaigns even begin? Not just understanding where ads appear, but how they appear and how they will align with brand values and impact the audience. (And not just when they create a brand crisis, like Bud Light or Pepsi – most recently.)

To accomplish this, we need strong company-level stewardship and a transparency akin to Wall Street’s – but beyond. One that zooms out even further than simple financials. It’s the only way we can address the issues of inefficiencies, mark-ups, and bad inventory that plague our current system.

And this isn’t about adding another reporting function for entry-level media buyers to own and monitor. To shift this paradigm, the awareness needs to shift at the industry leader level –  the global heads of media, and even CMOs. From here, we must build a digital advertising environment rooted in ethical practices and genuine transparency.

For many that seems scary, to shake up the status quo like this. What will happen to all of those non-executive media buying roles if “Big Brother” is looking over their shoulders with this level of scrutiny?

The position levels up – that’s what happens.

Rather than being judged, for example, by the millions of unvalidated views and clicks after a campaign wraps, these junior roles can be measured by the quality of the value they bring to aligning a campaign to a brand’s stated mission and purpose. How much more interesting and satisfying of a role would that be?

Because this also isn’t just about ensuring financial efficiency; it’s about considering the broader impact of our practices. As digital advertising evolves, so must our commitment to contributing positively to the world we live in.

So the question is no longer if we need comprehensive transparency but how we can achieve it. It starts with this very conversation:  questioning and challenging the status quo.

We also need to shift the focus from a forensic analysis of the final outcome to the governance of the campaign from the outset. It is the only way to evolve from reactive monitoring to proactive, informed decision-making. If a buyer cannot look ahead to his or her campaign with confidence in its transparency, how can they design this campaign strategically?

Digital advertising is complex, for sure. But that doesn’t mean we need to completely give up on control and understanding. The tools to create a more transparent, ethical, and trustworthy industry are here – and they are actionable and easy to use.  So let’s create a new vision for our work, where it can be not just effective, but also conscientious and responsible.