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Cross-industry taskforce launches programmatic audit tools to improve ad transparency

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

February 23, 2022 | 5 min read

Today sees the publication of a financial audit toolkit from the Programmatic Cross Industry Taskforce, the fruit of collaboration between the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (Isba), the Association of Online Publishers (AOP) and PwC.

It provides tools and information about how advertisers and publishers can check they are getting the maximum benefit of any programmatic ad spend. The new toolkit consists of three parts designed to provide advertisers and publishers with “the necessary industry recognized standards to begin auditing their programmatic supply chains, leveling the channel up with all other media channels”.

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The tools are designed to level programmatic channels up in line with all other media channels

Emily Latham, interim head of digital marketing and martech at Channel 4 and co-chair of Isba’s performance and programmatic steering group, said: “Being able to conduct a full financial audit of the programmatic supply chain is something Advertisers have been wanting for a long time and will enable them to truly extract the value from this channel and invest with more confidence.”

Sam Tomlinson, UK media and entertainment leader at PwC United Kingdom, said: “We’ve watched with admiration as the UK industry has come together to respond to the issues identified in the 2020 study, and been pleased to play our part in that UK taskforce. We’re now excited to play our part in the controlled test-and-learn to assess the impact of the taskforce outputs.”

The 2020 study found that around 15% of advertiser spend could not be attributed, in part due to the opacity of the programmatic chain. As a result, only around 51% of spend was actually reaching publishers themselves. As an indicator of how endemic this issue around spend leakage was, the study showed that even in a ‘disclosed’ programmatic model around one-third of supply chain costs remain undisclosed.

The study recommends a number of industry-wide changes in order to reduce the opacity of the ecosystem, from prioritizing the use of private marketplaces over open marketplaces to understanding “the steps their agency is taking on their behalf to maximize the proportion of their spend that reaches publishers”.

That’s significant as the disconnect between brands and agencies on who is responsible for auditing programmatic effectiveness has been growing. As of November last year, nearly 1.5-times more agency experts were concerned about increased ad fraud in programmatic than brands. Over half of agencies say programmatic technology “elevates the risk of encountering ad fraud in digital campaigns, while only 36% of brands share that perspective”.

That disconnect presents a challenge to cleaning up the space, as the majority of brands do not consider there to be much, if any, impetus to drive that change. So, as the Programmatic Cross Industry Taskforce states with the release of the new audit tools, it is up to the rest of the industry to get its own house in order when it comes to programmatic transparency.

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