Ad Buyers Are Finally Getting Log-Level Data, but Transparency Has Its Difficulties

Marketers have more access to ad auction data, but it's often hard to use

Accessing log-level data helps marketers track every dollar they spend.
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Key insight:

Supply-side platforms are starting to bring more transparency to the dynamics of online ad auctions, but existing operations across the supply chain can slow the adoption of these offerings.

Media buyers have been asking SSPs for log-level data—detailed information about the ad auctions in which they participate—in earnest for the last two years as a way to better understand the costs associated with programmatic advertising.

Now, SSPs are starting to build products to streamline the auction process and make log-level data more easily available in a bid to provide buyers with much-needed transparency.

Log-level data is now easier to access

OpenX has introduced its transparency product, Bidding Intelligence Data Set (BIDS), which makes log-level reports available to buyers.

“Our end users on the buy side have been clamoring for more transparency into the space for a long time. We’re confident and … hopeful that this is a very positive step in that direction,” said Joey Leichman, vp of buyer development at OpenX.

Access to log-level information allows marketers to scrutinize every dollar they spend programmatically, and parsing through the data can also help them adjust and optimize future campaigns.

“[Asking for log-level data] started as an auditing mechanism, and it has evolved into a bidding strategy facilitator,” said Amanda Martin, vp of enterprise partnerships at Goodway Group, an independent programmatic planning and buying service.

Other SSPs also have similar transparency products. The widely used Index Exchange brought Client Audit Logs to market last September; Beachfront Media, a smaller SSP, introduced its product Clearvu late last year, too.

Sell-side tech is also becoming increasingly commoditized, so boosting transparency is a way to keep up with competitors and win favor with agencies, which are increasingly looking to form closer relationships with SSPs.

Earlier this year, both GroupM and Omnicom Media Group made pacts with SSPs to guarantee spend through their platforms in exchange for preferential access or discounts. OpenX also has similar deals to ensure business from major holding companies.

While agencies may prioritize scale or access to unique inventory when establishing preferred relationships with SSPs, Leichman said transparency products act as a “gut check.”

“You want to have this capability so that you can you prove out that you’re delivering on the details of the partnership in the way that you promised you would,” Leichman explained.

But it’s not always easy to implement

Last year, Havas Media Group slashed the vast majority of supply-side players it worked with for failing to provide the required levels of transparency.

Tom Kershaw, CTO of Magnite, the new company formed in the merger of Rubicon Project and Telaria, said transparency around log-level data is now table stakes. He said Magnite has a converged transparency product, which unified what Rubicon and Telaria had offered as separate companies.

While transparency is needed in what’s generally seen as an opaque industry, not every buy-side stakeholder, whether an agency or demand-side platform, is ready to integrate the data from these products into their operations, said Frank Sinton, president and founder of Beachfront Media, an independent platform for video ads.

“We thought adoption [of Clearvu] would be faster. The thing is to remember that there’s a lot of existing workflows. And as fast as you think something new would be adopted, it does take time to work it into the agency workflow,” said Sinton.

One company that wanted to bring transparency to ad auctions has already fallen by the wayside. AdFin, which worked to audit the programmatic supply chain, shuttered last October partly because it didn’t get wide enough adoption.

Ravi Patel, former CEO of AdFin, said the company was “a couple years” too early since brands and agencies weren’t yet investing in programmatic transparency like they are today.

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