The ultimate guide to transparency in display advertising
5 min read

The ultimate guide to transparency in display advertising

The subject of transparency in display advertising is a topic that has been prominent within the industry for years. Not confined to the realms of display, it has dominated the headlines almost continuously since 2017.

Yet, what does transparency in display advertising mean? Where does it come from? How do you fix it? And how can greater transparency ultimately save brands money?

In this article you will learn:

  1. What is transparency?
  2. Why is transparency in display advertising important?
  3. Why is transparency over data so important to get right?
  4. Transparency in media buying and programmatic advertising today
  5. How has a need for transparency changed the way brands and agencies work (in-house marketing)?
  6. Key strategies to maintain transparency in display advertising

1. What is transparency in display advertising?

So what does transparency in display advertising translate as? Quite simply, transparency over your marketing efforts means having oversight over exactly where and how your campaigns are served. Plus, how much actual return on investment (ROI) you are getting for your ad spend.

Certainly, this sounds like a fairly simple requirement? In theory, yes. However, difficulties surrounding ad fraud, murky agency relationships, and lack of verifiable data has meant that transparency has climbed to the top of marketer’s agenda in recent years.

In fact, according to a recent survey from the ANA (Association of National Advertisers), one-third of advertisers cite transparency as a key concern for them in 2020.

2. Why is transparency in display advertising important?

You may be asking yourself why transparency in display advertising is so important. After all, display advertising has been an essential medium for digital marketers with little argument over transparency until recently…

Indeed, over the last decade brand marketers have allowed agencies to work almost autonomously when it comes to buying and applying media spend. Yet this is all changed in 2017 when P&G’s Marketing Chief, Marc Pritchard challenged the status quo. According to him, the programmatic media supply chain was “murky at best, and fraudulent at worst.

Marc Pritchard’s speech became a call to arms for the industry. Soon, more and more inefficiencies, mark-ups, and extortionate rebates were unearthed within the programmatic media landscape.

Put simply, marketers were being overcharged for ineffective digital marketing. And 2017 became the turning point.

Transparency within programmatic buying, brand-agency relationships, and performance measurement are the tools with which marketers can achieve effective digital marketing in 2020.

3. Why is transparency over data so important to get right?

Transparency over data can cover everything within the supply chain of digital marketing. Whether that includes the information which you use to target consumers or the data with which your analysts use to calculate ROI – having clear and accurate data underpins every single touchpoint of your marketing efforts.

Of course, many marketers still choose to trust at face value the data they are given by publishers, agencies, and ad servers themselves. And there’s not anything wrong with that.

However, the marketers who choose to take a closer look and examine the data in which they base their calculations on soon find that it can do a lot to increase ROI in the long-run.

One such example is Gene Foca, Chief Marketing Officer at GettyImages, who found that moving marketing in-house has meant far greater returns, ‘We’re seeing strong ROI because we’ve steadily, systematically improved most areas, we’re holding people accountable, we’re measuring performance and we’re working collaboratively and inclusively.

Making the choice to hold the data and parties accountable will not be an easy task. However – once done so – will likely improve your marketing ROI far more in the long-term.

4. Transparency in media buying and programmatic advertising today

According to the latest Bannerflow State of In-housing report, transparency in digital marketing still remains a key concern. In fact, 56% of brands cite transparency as an issue (albeit down from 87% in 2019). Download the report now for the full report download

In the past three years, transparency has remained a core issue and as such, changes in the industry are constantly evolving. During 2015, transparency over pricing remained an issue for brands where the previously murky brand-agency relationships meant brand marketers had little oversight on exactly how their money is being spent.

Today, the focus lies much more heavily on data transparency. Questions have emerged regarding exactly how accurate and reliable is the data in which targeting and performance metrics are based on.

For instance, today, if you were to watch a video on Tesla’s “unbreakable” trucks… Congratulations! You are now a Tesla enthusiast in the eyes of Youtube. Or stumble upon an article on Japanese luxury chalets, Remarkable! You are now a high net worth individual.

Indeed, The Drum reports that on several occasions, Facebook and Google have been found to be providing inaccurate metrics to marketers – and as such – many are turning more towards first-party data and third-party vendors to verify their data.

As we move further into 2020, these walled gardens surrounding social media and advertisers will continue to make way for a more open approach – allowing for greater access from third-party measurement providers.

5. How has a need for transparency changed the way brands and agencies work?

2017 sent shockwaves through the entire industry, shockwaves that are still being felt today. And one significant area of change has been the ways in which brands and agencies coexist.

Even now, brands are continuing to choose in-house marketing as a way to take control over the transparency of both ad spend and data. Indeed, in Bannerflow’s most recent State of In-housing Report, 39% of brands cited transparency as the greatest benefit of moving marketing operations in-house.

In fact, Vodafone and Walmart are some of the more notable brands in recent times to bring their marketing efforts in-house in an effort to reduce agency kickbacks and increase transparency.

Some changes have been as simple as greater scrutiny of agency-client contracts and retainers, some have been third-party independent attribution tools to measure media agency performance, and some have been a full-scale withdrawal of relationships with external agencies altogether.

However, these moves do not spell the end of agencies, nor does it suggest an end to brands relying on those agencies. It shows that instead, successful brands are becoming more accountable for exactly where and what their money is going on.

6. Key strategies to maintain transparency in display advertising

How can you, as a brand marketer, ensure that you have transparency within your display advertising?

There are some essential requirements you should ask of anyone you’re working with that should ensure transparency at a basic level. They include:

  • Ad fraud control.
  • Effective Brand Safety (learn more here).
  • Complete transparency over ad inventory.
  • Transparent spending by DSPs – the best DSPs will provide a full view of all spend across every channel with a comprehensive spent analysis as well.
  • Employ trusted third parties to audit your media spend.
  • A fully transparent agency contract that provides a base fee paired with a pay-per-performance bonus based on clearly outlined metrics.
  • Explore contextual targeting as a way of ensuring you’re reaching the right audience.

Display advertising best practice takes time and money. Yet ultimately, this is time and money that would be wasted working with untrustworthy partners, with inefficient practices, and unreliable data.

In the words of P&G’s Marc Pritchard, there are “…too many players grading their own homework, too many hidden touches, and too many holes to allow criminals to rip us off” to allow for transparency to fall through the cracks.

A quick note on preventing ad fraud!

Ad fraud relates to a scam in which advertisers are tricked into paying for false traffic, clicks, bad ad placement, or fake leads. Ad fraud is an issue that exists beyond just the transparency between brand/agency relationships.

It is something that is pervasive across digital marketing, and if serious about transparent advertising, something all marketers should be aware of and try to combat.

In order to tackle ad fraud there are some key strategies to employ:

  • Use curated and trusted private marketplaces i.e. Private marketplaces (PSPs)
  • Choose publishers and DSPs that comply with IAB Ads.txt.
  • Use pre-bid segmentation as well as post-bid reporting using companies such as MOAT, IAS, and DoubleVerify.
  • Check the most up-to-date information about preventing ad fraud at the International Advertising Bureau (IAB).


Transparency is a subject that spans across many different areas of marketing. Nor is it something that can be pinned down easily or solved simply. Yet, there is progress in the industry.

With brands moving more of their marketing efforts in-house in recent years – transparency is becoming a crucial benefit. Plus, agencies and third-parties are becoming more open and more accountable. The industry is certainly moving in the right direction.

Download the State of In-housing Report 2020 to learn more about how moving in-house helped leading brands with transparency. Or, if you would like to know more about about how the Bannerflow creative management platform can aid transparency, then get in touch!

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