It might make sense that when an advertiser pays to place an ad on a site they would want to know on which site their ad is being placed.

But hey, this is the new age of advertising, man, not everything has to make sense all the time – like advertisers paying for ads that nobody sees. Which happens about half of the time.

But thankfully, we’re not here to talk about viewability (there’s enough people doing that for us). We’re here to talk about transparency – the notion that an advertiser might want to know where their ads are ending up.

Strictly in terms of total 2015 media bombardment, if viewability is the golden boy star athlete, and ad fraud is his annoying, occasionally forgotten little brother, then transparency is the weird uncle who was last seen on a dubious solo trip to Myrtle Beach and hasn’t been heard from since.

In other words, no one really talks about it anymore.

Which is a shame. Transparency is really important.

Forget Viewability, Let’s Talk About Transparency

Transparency assures advertisers they run ads on the sites they want, on the sites where their target audience lives, and not on the sites that could be considered – “ahem” – inappropriate.

And even if the ad is placed on the site the advertiser wants, there’s often questions about whether or not the ad was even viewable (dammit, I guess we do have to talk about viewability).

But the reality is that transparency talks usually happen at the negotiation level between the advertiser and their ad tech partner, and as such they can be a bit “hush hush.”

It can get awkward:

Advertiser: “So… how transparent are you?”

Ad tech partner: “We are fully transparent, here is our available site list.”

Advertiser: “Oh, that’s impressive and all but.. how do I know if my ads will actually run on these sites?”

Ad tech partner: “You’ll just have to trust us.”

Advertiser: “Oh.”

Ah, trust. If there’s one thing the advertising industry (and business in general) hasn’t historically been very good at, it’s garnering trust.

So what’s an advertiser to do?

Programmatic Tries to Save the Day

For a while, it seemed as though advertisers wouldn’t have to do anything. Technology played its hand and a solution was born: programmatic advertising.

Programmatic technologies allow advertisers to select inventory from a range of sites in an automated fashion on an open market, theoretically providing greater transparency into where ads are being placed and the price the impressions are being sold for.

That technology was predicted to supplant the traditional methods of negotiating with ad tech partners directly because it offers efficiency. Yet, it hasn’t and doesn’t appear like it will. While programmatic buying may provide efficient variety, advertisers will always have a need for specificity.

So the transparency question remains.

In recent years, a lot of work has been done to assuage advertiser fears that they don’t know where their ads are being placed, and wouldn’t approve if they ever found out.

Many ad tech partners have come out as “premium” ad networks, offering 100% transparency coupled with a shiny selection of well-known, reputable publishers that would make any advertiser giddy.

But just because a partner might claim 100% transparency, doesn’t mean it actually happens. And maybe they do have a glitzy list of publishers they buy inventory from, but that doesn’t mean an advertiser’s ad will actually appear on those sites.

How to Tell if Your Ad Tech Partner is Transparent

Luckily, there are a few ways to know if an ad tech partner is truly transparent. Here’s what an advertiser can look for/ask about:

  1. A site list of “possible publishers” is a great place to start, but see if the ad tech partner can manually check each site for available impressions before the campaign runs. Then, the partner should be able to whitelist/blacklist any sites the advertiser wants/doesn’t want.
  2. Does your partner offer post-campaign site reports that not only include which sites were hit, but the breakdown of total impressions served and the percent viewed and clicked?
  3. See if they accept third-party tracking tags. These tags can figure out exactly where ads ran, which adds veracity to the post-campaign reporting.
  4. A pre-bid verification tool. This will guarantee value by evaluating publisher reliability and pricing so the advertiser ensures viewability at the best prices available.
  5. A viewability sensor. Even if the ads are placed on sites the advertiser wants, they may not be viewable. Having technology that optimizes for viewable placements in real-time while the campaign is running is crucial to determining the value of a campaign.

You see, transparency isn’t about micromanagement, nor is it really even about trust.

Transparency is about value.

If an advertiser doesn’t know where their ads are being placed, then they can’t determine the reasons behind the ads’ success or failure.

As the old saying goes, if it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed.

And in this case that’s probably true.