Transparency is the advertising industry’s most dangerous buzzword

Anne Parsons explains how 'transparency' has lost its way in a world of buzzwords and confusingly shiny new tech toys. The only guaranteed result? Dwindling client trust.

Have you played the advertising game, the one where you try to get marketing people to complete sentences that don’t include buzzwords?

You can find the most opinionated of practitioners stuck for lucid conversation when you remove the prevailing vocabulary: programmatic, measurement, optimisation, disintermediation, digitisation, diversification, transparency, viewability, sustainability.

The list is long, but the one that matters most, so much so that we all should be appalled that it even has to be verbalised, is trust.

Trust is the thing that agencies were built on: pivotal relationships whereby what the agency person said, even if it sounded like a tall order, was the thing that they would deliver on no matter what the cost. Incredibly strong relationships were borne from that and those relationships endured through thick and thin.

Transparency is the weasel word put to this gob-smackingly huge issue. For the last couple of years, the talk has been about lack of transparency, a key concern from clients relating to how they felt they were receiving information and how their media transactions were being fulfilled.

Lack of transparency said another way is about operating in the shadows. Call it what you like, but what it boils down to is dwindling trust from clients.

The blue sky might be about the ability of technology and machines to provide a level of efficiency at a scale which enables people to focus on bigger and more potentially impactful issues.

But at the coal face we are dealing with how to make clients believe again that what we do and how we do it, is always in the best interest of their business.

P&G’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard said it like this: “There is no sustainable advantage in a complicated, non-transparent, inefficient and fraudulent media supply chain.” There was a knockout blow.

Not only is trust on the table, but it is the one thing that without addressing and returning it as the fundamental of all relationships, will ensure the industry perpetually wobbles. It is certainly a global issue. Media governance is the first and biggest issue on the agenda of the World Federation of Advertisers.

This universal nightmare of our own making has come from perfecting the dark art of digital – digital supply chain and related media contracts, brand safety and how content and advertising co-exist in appropriate environments, data ownership, fake news and ad fraud. The composite effect of these issues is not just that there is a lack of trust, but in the same way that trust is an all or nothing thing, the lack of trust is not restricted to just digital channels. It is bleeding into client relationships, contaminating new ideas and initiatives.

So when the oldest medium in OOH is growing significantly in the digital space, dependent on and influenced by data, programmatic and measurement, then we should use the lessons already learned to try and ensure that clients are seeing a new kind of value being offered.

We must have recognised by now that losing trust is the precursor to losing money. And there is no company, media buyer or seller that would not want to arrest that slippery slope.

If we consider the purpose of media buyers and media owners, it has surely become the ability to buy or sell media that drives business outcomes through being smarter. Not cheaper.

And here is where the trust pivot will have its greatest access – the shift from media as a commodity that you buy at the lowest cost, to media operating as a lever for growth that drives a tangible business outcome. The data, the screen, the measurement and the expertise can prove that to be the case.

Digital OOH can use the lessons of the recent past to ensure that the power of the medium, the data we can harness and the great relationships fostered with agencies and clients are capable of putting trust squarely back in the game.

Anne Parsons is media advisor and non-executive director at QMS Media.


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