• Report Offers Range Of Recommendations To Ensure Accountability

Toronto, May 18, 2017: Achieving transparency in the programmatic media buying ecosystem remains a persistent challenge for marketers, but there are steps companies can take to ensure that their agencies are held accountable for digital ad expenditures, according to a new study.

The study, “Programmatic: Seeing Through the Financial Fog” was conducted jointly by the ANA (Association of National Advertisers), the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA), Ebiquity, and AD/FIN.

The study took a data-centric approach, processing over 16 billion in-market programmatic transactions across participating advertisers. The resulting analysis provides a first-ever inspection into how advertiser budgets were actually spent along the digital supply chain with insights around costs and fees incurred for media, technology, service and data.

“Programmatic media offers the promise of targeting precision, scalability, cost efficiency, real-time optimization and unprecedented leverage of big data for marketers,” said Ron Lund, President and CEO, ACA. “However, there is growing concern among marketers around the hidden costs of the programmatic ecosystem and the inherent lack of transactional transparency institutionalized by the undisclosed programmatic buying model.”

The study was designed to provide practical solutions to help advertisers take greater control of their programmatic investments and to investigate the costs and economics of the programmatic ecosystem.

Among the findings, the study showed widespread use of non-disclosed programmatic buying arrangements between marketers and their agencies as well as substantial knowledge gaps about how the programmatic ecosystem works.

It also indicated a lack of industry standards and protocols that would help advertisers analyze the costs and effectiveness of their programmatic investments against market norms and benchmarks.

The report concluded that advertisers may have difficulty managing their programmatic investments with the same rigor as traditional media investments, and specifically that many advertisers engaged in programmatic media buying:

  • Do not have adequate transparency around their programmatic media investments to make the most informed business decisions to build business performance and brands.
  • Do not properly understand the economics of programmatic media to manage the complex supply chain that underlies each transaction.
  • Lack the necessary knowledge of programmatic media costs, agency/trading desk fees and performance details to meet internal measurement and management requirements.
  • Need tools and guidance to manage and optimize their programmatic supply chain.
  • Should upgrade their media agency contracts to manage and optimize their programmatic supply chain.
  • Are more successful with clear programmatic KPIs, aligned incentives and clear roles and responsibilities across all parties are in better control over their media investments.

“We learned a lot in this study, not just from the billions of impressions analyzed, but from the roadblocks and challenges thrown in our way,” said Andrew Altersohn, CEO of AD/FIN. “We’re excited to pass along what we learned, to share what the data told us, and most importantly, provide practical recommendations for advertisers to obtain greater accountability and insight into their programmatic dollars.


The study provides an “Advertiser Playbook” with an eleven-step plan to enhanced programmatic accountability. Key steps marketers should take include the following:

  • Clarify the advertiser-agency-third party relationships and ensure disclosures of all conflicts of interest. Given the level of debate in the marketplace around the fiduciary responsibilities of agency and buying partners, we recommend complete clarity on this topic with respect to programmatic media.
  • Make an informed programmatic disclosure and accountability decision. Whether to engage and purchase programmatic media on a disclosed or non-disclosed basis is a critical decision for every advertiser.
  • Implement the “transparent” programmatic planning and buying model that’s right for your organization. Advertisers do have choices on how to engage in programmatic media buying to get the level of accountability and transparency they need. These choices include (a) in-house programmatic buying, (b) disclosed agreement with agency with advertiser control of the tech stack, (c) disclosed agreement with agency with agency control of the tech stack, (d) and non-disclosed.
  • Enhance MSA/media buying agreement(s) to meet accountability needs and expectations. These include disclosure of data ownership and control, audit rights, data security requirements and disclosure of third party fees.
  • Stay vigilant — “trust but verify.” Given the changing landscape of digital media and the potential for new service providers, DSPs, tech providers, and data providers
    to be added (or dropped) from your media stack, marketers should conduct a data and disclosure review on a recurring basis.


The survey analyzed 16.4 billion media impressions purchased on behalf of seven major advertisers across five programmatic DSPs. The participants spanned more than 30 major brands in auto, banking, beauty, CPG, fashion, and travel, and the data included both open-market real-time bidding (RTB) and private marketplace transactions. The vast majority (over 95 percent) of analyzed data was not executed by an agency trading desk, but bought directly by the media agency and/or DSP as a managed service. The project spanned almost two years, from May 2015 through April 2017.

Download a copy of the report

About ACA: ACA is the independent voice of Canadian marketers and the champion of a fair and transparent marketplace. A national, not-for-profit association, it speaks on behalf of more than 200 companies and divisions. 2017 marks 100 years since ACA was incorporated as an association. For more information, visit www.acaweb.ca

ABOUT THE ANA: The ANA (Association of National Advertisers) makes a difference for individuals, brands, and the industry by advancing the interests of marketers and promoting and protecting the well-being of the marketing community. Founded in 1910, the ANA provides leadership that advances marketing excellence and shapes the future of the industry. The ANA’s membership includes more than 1,000 companies with 15,000 brands that collectively spend or support more than $250 billion in marketing and advertising annually. The membership is comprised of more than 700 client-side marketers and nearly 300 associate members, which include leading agencies, law firms, suppliers, consultants, and vendors. Further enriching the ecosystem is the work of the nonprofit Advertising Educational Foundation (AEF), an ANA subsidiary, which has the mission of enhancing the understanding of advertising and marketing within the academic and marketing communities.

ABOUT EBIQUITY: Ebiquity (www.ebiquity.com) is a world-leading, technology-enabled, independent consultancy, specializing in marketing and media analytics. Ebiquity employs over 900 people across 19 offices in 14 countries worldwide and helps more than 80 of the top 100 brands worldwide utilize data, tools, analysis, and insights to make better (and more informed) media and marketing decisions. Ebiquity was founded in 1997 and is listed on the AIM Market of the London Stock Exchange (EBQ).

ABOUT AD/FIN: AD/FIN (www.adfin.com) is a next-generation media intelligence company for the programmatic era. As digital media continues to grow exponentially, new approaches are needed to deliver transparency, accountability, and unbiased cost, fee, and performance insights across the digital supply chain. AD/FIN is the solution. AD/FIN is the only purpose-built, independent intelligence platform capable of processing the scale and complexity of programmatic media. The result: next-generation insights, recommendations, and decisioning power for digital media buyers and sellers. Based in NYC, AD/FIN is backed by Cantor Ventures and Julserra Holdings.

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