New Study Shows Effective Programmatic Ad Buys Remain Elusive Due to Transparency and Complexity Concerns | About the ANA | ANA

New Study Shows Effective Programmatic Ad Buys Remain Elusive Due to Transparency and Complexity Concerns

Report Offers Range of Solutions for Ensuring Accountability

NEW YORK (May 18, 2017) — Achieving transparency in the programmatic media buying ecosystem remains a persistent challenge for marketers, but there are steps companies can take to ensure that their agencies and media partners are held accountable for digital ad expenditures, according to a new study.

The study, "Programmatic: Seeing Through the Financial Fog" was conducted jointly by the ANA (Association of National Advertisers), the ACA (Association of Canadian Advertisers), Ebiquity, and AD/FIN.

The study took a data-centric approach, processing over 16 billion in-market programmatic transactions across participating advertisers. The resulting analysis provides a first ever inspection into how advertiser budgets were actually spent along the digital supply chain with insights around costs and fees incurred for media, technology, service and data. "Programmatic is becoming the most dominant approach to buying digital media because it offers targeting precision, scalability, cost efficiency, real time optimization and unprecedented leverage of big data for advertisers," said ANA CEO Bob Liodice. "However, programmatic remains complex and often non-transparent. Our study revealed that this lack of transparency makes it difficult for advertisers to manage, measure and audit programmatic media investments with the same rigor as traditional media investments."

Liodice said the study was designed to provide practical solutions to help advertisers take greater control of their programmatic investments and to investigate the costs and economics of the programmatic ecosystem.

Among the findings, the study showed widespread use of non-disclosed programmatic buying arrangements between marketers and their agencies as well as substantial knowledge gaps about how the programmatic ecosystem works. It also indicated a lack of industry standards and protocols that would help advertisers analyze the costs and effectiveness of their programmatic investments against market norms and benchmarks.

The report concluded that advertisers may have difficulty managing their programmatic investments with the same rigor as traditional media investments, and specifically that many advertisers engaged in programmatic media buying:

  • Do not have adequate transparency around their programmatic media investments to make the most informed business decisions to build business performance and brands.
  • Do not properly understand the economics of programmatic media to manage the complex supply chain that underlies each transaction.
  • Lack the necessary knowledge of programmatic media costs, agency/trading desk fees and performance details to meet internal measurement and management requirements.
  • Need tools and guidance to manage and optimize their programmatic supply chain.
  • Should upgrade their media agency contracts to manage and optimize their programmatic supply chain.
  • Are more successful with clear programmatic KPIs, aligned incentives and clear roles and responsibilities across all parties are in better control over their media investments.

"We learned a lot in this study, not just from the billions of impressions analyzed, but from the roadblocks and challenges thrown in our way," said Andrew Altersohn, CEO of AD/FIN. "We're excited to pass along what we learned, to share what the data told us, and most importantly, provide practical recommendations for advertisers to obtain greater accountability and insight into their programmatic dollars. 

The study provides an "Advertiser Playbook" with an eleven-step plan to enhanced programmatic accountability. Key steps marketers should take include the following:

  • Clarify the advertiser-agency-third party relationships and ensure disclosures of all conflicts of interest. Given the level of debate in the marketplace around the fiduciary responsibilities of agency and buying partners, we recommend complete clarity on this topic with respect to programmatic media.
  • Make an informed programmatic disclosure and accountability decision. Whether to engage and purchase programmatic media on a disclosed or non-disclosed basis is a critical decision for every advertiser.
  • Implement the "transparent" programmatic planning and buying model that's right for your organization. Advertisers do have choices on how to engage in programmatic media buying to get the level of accountability and transparency they need. These choices include (a) in-house programmatic buying, (b) disclosed agreement with agency with advertiser control of the tech stack, (c) disclosed agreement with agency with agency control of the tech stack, (d) and non-disclosed.
  • Enhance MSA/media buying agreement(s) to meet accountability needs and expectations. These include disclosure of data ownership and control, audit rights, data security requirements and disclosure of third party fees.
  • Put disclosure to work and instill verification, financial reporting and audit protocols by taking control of programmatic transaction data at the core of every impression purchased on the advertiser's behalf.
  • Stay vigilant — "trust but verify." Given the changing landscape of digital media and the potential for new service providers, DSPs, tech providers, and data providers to be added (or dropped) from your media stack, marketers should conduct a data and disclosure review on a recurring basis. 

The survey analyzed 16.4 billion media impressions for disclosed programmatic buys purchased on behalf of seven major advertisers across five programmatic DSPs. The participants spanned more than 30 major brands in auto, banking, beauty, CPG, fashion, and travel, and the data included both real-time bidding (RTB) and private marketplace (PMP) transactions. The primary source of data was programmatic transaction logs and associated metadata from each DSP purchasing media for participating advertisers. In addition, if the transactions analyzed, over 95 percent was not executed by an agency trading desk, but bought directly by the media agency and/or DSP as a managed service. The project spanned almost two years, from May 2015 through April 2017.



The mission of the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) is to drive growth for marketing professionals, brands and businesses, the industry, and humanity. The ANA serves the marketing needs of 20,000 brands by leveraging the 12-point ANA Growth Agenda, which has been endorsed by the Global CMO Growth Council. The ANA’s membership consists of U.S. and international companies, including client-side marketers, nonprofits, fundraisers, and marketing solutions providers (data science and technology companies, ad agencies, publishers, media companies, suppliers, and vendors). The ANA creates Marketing Growth Champions by serving, educating, and advocating for more than 50,000 industry members that collectively invest more than $400 billion in marketing and advertising annually.


The Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA) is a national, not-for-profit association exclusively dedicated to representing the interests of client companies that market and advertise their products and services in Canada. Its members, over 200 companies and divisions, represent a wide range of industry sectors, including manufacturing, retailing, packaged goods, financial services and communications. They are the top marketers in Canada with collective annual sales of more than $300 billion. 


Ebiquity ( is a world-leading, technology-enabled, independent consultancy, specializing in marketing and media analytics. Ebiquity employs over 900 people across 19 offices in 14 countries worldwide and helps more than 80 of the top 100 brands worldwide utilize data, tools, analysis, and insights to make better (and more informed) media and marketing decisions. Ebiquity was founded in 1997 and is listed on the AIM Market of the London Stock Exchange (EBQ). 


AD/FIN ( is a next-generation media intelligence company for the programmatic era. As digital media continues to grow exponentially, new approaches are needed to deliver transparency, accountability, and unbiased cost, fee, and performance insights across the digital supply chain. AD/FIN is the solution. AD/FIN is the only purpose-built, independent intelligence platform capable of processing the scale and complexity of programmatic media. The result: next-generation insights, recommendations, and decisioning power for digital media buyers and sellers. Based in NYC, AD/FIN is backed by Cantor Ventures and Julserra Holdings.


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