ISBA’s programmatic supply chain study finds match rate increases and reduction of unattributable spend

ISBA has released the headline findings from its second Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study with PwC and has found positive and welcome improvements.

  • Improvements in data access successfully halved the time required to conduct the study to nine months (vs 18 months for the 2020 study).
  • Greater standardisation of data quality improved the ad impression match rate to 58% (vs 12% in 2020) and the unattributable ad spend (AKA the unknown delta) was reduced to 3% (vs 15% in 2020).
  • The proportion of advertiser spend reaching publishers has risen by 8%.
  • The Programmatic Financial Audit Toolkit (the Toolkit) launched in February 2022 has been proven to be of significant benefit to the audit process.
  • However, the improvements are not consistent, and the industry needs to continue its collaboration to make financial audits a routine feature of the market.

Wave two of the groundbreaking and multi award winning ISBA Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study with the AOP (Association of Online Publishers) and carried out by PwC, was undertaken specifically to test the Toolkit.

These documents were developed by the Cross-industry Programmatic Taskforce – comprising ISBA, the AOP, the IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau) and The IPA (Institute of Practitioners of Advertising), with input from PwC – to work alongside existing contracts in response to the publication of the results from the first study in May 2020. This is a unique collaboration and the first of its kind globally.

The documents were designed to make it easier for advertisers, publishers, and their designated auditors to gather standardised data from DSPs and SSPs, to track their advertising spend across the programmatic supply chain through a financial audit.

The Study’s principal findings show a nearly fivefold improvement in the match rate of impression data (from DSP to SSP) from 12% in the 2020 study to 58%, and a significant reduction in the size of the unattributable spend, to 3% in this 2022 study.

However, PwC’s team of specialists running the Study had to work closely with the DSPs and SSPs on data filtering and transfer in order to arrive at complete and accurate data sets, which in turn led to this significant reduction in the unattributable spend. ISBA believes advertisers and publishers should be able to expect the process of data filtering and sharing to be smoother in the future.

More specifically, this 2022 study has uncovered notable differences in the delta between open marketplaces 3%) and private marketplaces (<1%), reflecting the benefit of investments by advertisers, their agencies, tech vendors and publishers in well-curated auditable private marketplaces.

While the Toolkit facilitated faster access to advertiser and publisher data with some adtech vendors, levels of adoption varied: for example, some SSPs still required additional manual DSP permissions before granting data access. This additional permissioning process added significantly to the audit time. Overall, this 2022 study took nine months to complete, which is a marked improvement on the 18 months for the first study, but still some way short of the five months that PwC believe should be achievable for routine audits.

A promising improvement was that all adtech vendors were able to provide log level rather than aggregate data, a key factor in producing the much improved 58% ad impression match rate. Importantly, unlike in 2020, there is now good reason to believe the unmatched impressions in this study would exhibit similar results to the matched ones.

A key recommendation from PwC is that the ad tech industry should remain focused on refining data quality standards to allow accurate matching of individual impressions, such as ensuring all data fields in the Taskforce Toolkit can be provided by all tech vendors.   

Beyond data access and data quality, the other area requiring industry attention is protocols around data retention and data transfer if financial audits of the programmatic supply chain are to become normalised and routine. At present, practices vary significantly.

Other key recommendations include separate DSP seats for each advertiser, extending the use of well-curated auditable private marketplaces, encouraging the use of ads.txt (which the Study suggests has had a measurable impact on limiting unauthorised selling of ad inventory), and for advertisers and publishers to consider regular supply chain audits.

It is important to note that, like 2020, this 2020 study focused on premium advertisers, agencies, tech vendors, and publishers. These promising results should not be taken as representative of the broader programmatic ecosystem.

In summary, the positive results of the 2022 study are significant and demonstrate the operational potential of the Toolkit. They also highlight the improvements in data quality, access and products implemented by many adtech vendors in response to the original study.

However there remains work to be done at individual and industry level to improve data access, data retention and data transfer towards establishing a normalised environment for financial audits of advertisers and publishers’ programmatic supply chains.

ISBA recommends that the results from this study will be used to refine the Toolkit and enable the Taskforce to develop further standards guidance for all stakeholders in the programmatic supply chain to achieve necessary transparency.

You can read the summary here along with the list of participants.