In the ever-evolving world of advertising, the one thing that remains the same is our desire for transparency. But for a word characterised by clarity, it’s ironic that it is so hard to establish how exactly to achieve it.

But this doesn’t need to be the case. It shouldn’t be hard to attain transparency – transparent relationships are not only mutually beneficial, they’re so much easier to manage. So, the challenge is how to get there. It’s time to put an end to the mystery, and no, I’m not about to disclose a secret formula – it’s much more simple than that. If you want transparency, all you’ve got to do is ask.

What does it actually mean to be transparent?

Many people make the mistake of trying to understand transparency as a singular defined ‘thing’ but, in reality, it refers to a whole range of practices and behaviours.

For a lot of brands, the pursuit of transparency is often defined by money: exactly how much will it cost, and where is this spend going? At The Trade Desk, we understand this. We keep our clients in the loop every step of the way with customised and itemised billing, setting out fees clearly so that advertisers can track their spend throughout a campaign. But advertisers’ questions should look at more than just their pounds.

As well as financial transparency, all players in the supply chain – from publishers to demand side platforms to agencies – should be volunteering information about how they operate. Where do they get their data from? And which external providers do they work with? Freedom of choice is essential in achieving true transparency, and The Trade Desk’s open marketplace means buyers have the opportunity to pick which tools to plug into the platform.

2017, the transparency revolution

Last year was a turning-point for the industry. The gauntlet was well and truly thrown when the industry was spurred into action against a certain ‘murkiness’ that had seeped into processes within the supply chain.

But things have quickly evolved. Transparency isn’t rocket science – in fact it’s not only achievable, it’s very straightforward. Every player in the supply chain needs to have the confidence to work with their partners openly and not be afraid to ask questions. And that includes asking how suppliers will measure success, who else is involved and what the costs are for using them.

We must accept responsibility and start an open dialogue at every stage in the supply chain. And this means everyone; including taking a good hard look at relationships within closed ecosystems, who decline to show how they operate.

Transparency will also help us to eliminate any partner bias. In media buying, some companies operate on both the buy- and sell-sides. Just as a player shouldn’t be the referee, surely these platforms cannot work in a brand’s best interests while promoting those of another business at the same time.

Now is the time for everyone to really challenge their partners to demonstrate their objectivity and explain exactly how, where and why their money is being spent. And this is already becoming a reality; we’re seeing many advertisers experiencing the benefits of transparent relationships. But with everyone on board, we’ll shed light on the hidden corners of the supply chain.

Asking the right questions

It’s clear that the ones set to benefit the most from greater transparency are brands, who are funding the rest of the supply chain with their ad spend. But in order for advertisers to effectively challenge their partners, they need to do more than ask questions – they need to know the right questions to ask.

And this means fully understanding the programmatic environment they’re investing in. With this knowledge, advertisers are better placed to understand exactly what partners can offer, and how they’ll add value to their campaigns. Any valuable partner will offer a ton of ways to validate the service they’re providing.

The future is transparent

Transparency should be a given in today’s advertising industry – so players right up and down the supply chain must open up, or risk losing their share of the market.

If a company can’t guarantee transparency, then it’s probably best not to work with someone who has something to hide from you. My advice? Lead by example and show your partners how transparent it’s possible to be. That way, we’ll have a supply chain that works for all of us.

Anna Forbes

Anna Forbes


Anna Forbes, UK General Manager of The Trade Desk.