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01/12/2020 - Views

How Transparency Drives Value In Digital Advertising

Originally published on Forbes.com on November 30, 2020.

Advertising has never been more important. Ad spending during the 2020 U.S. presidential and congressional elections surged to $14 billion – more than double the spending in 2016. But as ad spending hits new highs, trust in advertising transparency is hitting new lows. According to recent Metamarkets research, almost half of all brands don’t trust at least 20% of the data they use to make media buying decisions. 74% of marketers would increase their ad spending by as much as 50% if they had access to more transparent data.  

Forbes Technology Council member Jim Wilson is the North American CEO of Europe-based Talon Outdoor, an award-winning out-of-home (OOH) advertising technology and services provider for some of the world’s biggest brands and agencies. He said today’s media supply chains lack the transparency marketers need to reliably and cost-effectively reach the right audience with the right message at the right time.

“Agencies, intermediary data and media buying tech platforms, and media owners need to understand how important an issue transparency is for marketers and how trust in the media and advertising business is damaged when advertisers can’t answer basic questions such as “How is my media budget being spent?” and “Why and how much do agencies earn from managing my spend?”

Wilson said advertiser concerns over transparency have primarily focused on the murky waters of digital media, specifically platform and data fees, as well as a “labyrinth of supply chain intermediaries” who sit between the marketer and publisher. Because the market is designed to benefit so many middlemen, marketers lack insights into how much digital inventory actually costs between fees and bid pricing. 

Having launched, scaled and transformed numerous technology, media and advertising businesses for more than 20 years, Wilson attributes his success to an emphasis on trust and transparency as guiding principles for successful partnerships. “Being honest about the problems of an emerging category is a crucial step towards building trust,” he said. 

With transparency as its key operating principle, Talon is expanding rapidly in North America through organic revenue growth, strategic acquisitions and partnerships. “From my perspective in leading an OOH agency, transparency is directly linked to value creation,” Wilson said. As such, Talon is focused on advancing the industry through three key drivers: strategy, transparency and outcomes. “We leverage our industry expertise to guide strategic decisions, which create real value for our brand and agency partners and are quantifiable in business outcomes and results.”

Transparency was a key differentiator that Wilson instilled at Premion, TEGNA and Gray Television’s OTT advertising business, which he launched and led prior to Talon. Buying ad inventory to stream with premium content via over-the-top (OTT) platforms is growing in popularity. Though it was initially believed that all OTT ads run in a brand-safe, fraud-free environment, Wilson said this is a misconception. “The reality is there are inherent brand safety risks whenever advertisers buy from open exchange and programmatic platforms – that includes buying CTV (connected TV) and OTT.” He said that acknowledging these risks upfront allowed Premion to create solutions that reduce the complexity instead of exacerbating it.

As more new offerings and platforms compete for first-to-market headlines and market share, Wilson said it’s crucial to establish industry standards. “In the rush to market, it’s easy to overlook the fundamentals. Creating standards for the emerging programmatic OOH market should be a priority and there is already great progress underway by our industry bodies.”

Standards that account for the needs of media owners, intermediaries and advertisers will be even more important as OOH media buying and selling become increasingly automated. “There are clear lessons to garner from the online advertising sector, namely building up solutions which incorporate transparency, limit fraud and enable trust as a baseline,” Wilson said. “These lessons should set a clear course of action for how OOH should evolve as a genuinely digital ad channel.”

Ultimately, these transparency standards will not only work to evolve the entire advertising industry; they’ll also drive the success of individual agencies. Wilson emphasized the link between transparency and value creation. “As media agencies, we need to always focus on that value exchange. We need to ensure that we are creating value for customers with better outcomes, and for providers by offering new customers and growth opportunities.”