The ANA parts ways with PwC in its ongoing ad tech transparency project

In December 2021 The Association of National Advertisers confirmed PricewaterhouseCoopers as lead partner for a landmark study geared toward bringing further transparency into the programmatic media-buying landscape.

Although, 18 months later, the pairing has run its course after the ANA ended the relationship over dissatisfaction with PwC’s performance; ANA has already secured alternative partners, sources told Digiday.

There are still wranglings over the duo’s initially agreed-upon contractual terms with disagreements centered on issues such as accreditation, according to sources.

Despite such setbacks, the ANA is still expected to complete the project with the trade org set to publish initial findings ahead of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity with a more comprehensive study set to be published “later in the summer.”

In an emailed statement, an ANA spokesperson said PwC’s portion of the report is completed. “ANA looks forward to leading the next steps in this initiative,” according to the statement. Representatives of PwC did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Digiday.

Early friction frustrates

PwC won the contract for the ANA’s transparency contract seeing off competition from 20 rivals in an RFP process that also saw investigative firm Kroll and TAG, an information sharing and analysis organization co-created by the 4A’s, ANA, and IAB, plus payment-tracking firm Fiducia also named as participants. 

Initial architects of the study expected to emulate findings from both the ANA and PwC’s U.K. counterparts — the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, and the auditing firms’ London-based colleagues. This 2016 study found that only half of all advertisers’ programmatic spend actually made its way into publishers’ pockets with the ISBA and PwC also noting a 15% “unkown delta.”

Related Insights

Meanwhile, as marketers on the other side of the Atlantic were on course to invest more than $123 billion into the programmatic media-buying landscape, rising to $142 billion this year according to Insider Intelligence, auditors at PwC ran into difficulties when appraising the “ad tech tax” in the U.S.  

In mid-2022, multiple sources told Digiday “vested interests” resulted in delays that saw a plethora of household name advertisers, including Diageo, Procter & Gamble and Unilever withhold from participating in the study. 

Complexities and disparities

For instance, auditors approached Google — a potentially abundant source of insights given the ubiquity of both its buy- and sell-side ad tech tools — and requested it participate in the study. And while Google did not outright decline to participate, its terms were nuanced, an indication of the obstacles facing any party looking to parse the intricacies of programmatic media trading.

Google permitted auditors to access data on its demand-side platform DV360 (provided they have client permission), sources told Digiday, but gathering insights from the sell-side of its operations has proven more challenging.

The online advertising giant told auditors that it does not have access to sell-side data, as that information belongs to publishers, sources said. This suggests that Google’s own methods of data storage make it unable to provide outside parties with unfettered insights across its platform. 

Instead, Google recommended that auditors collect the requested information from individual publishers with such developments frustrating other high-profile potential participants with the industry’s largest independent DSP The Trade Desk also declining to take part. 

Separately, sources told Digiday that, unlike in the U.K., auditors participating in the U.S. study proposed using distributed ledger technology from TAG and Fiducia, a development that led to some reporting disparities. Such developments did little to buoy the enthusiasm of advertisers.

Despite these complications, marketers are unlikely to seriously curb their investment in ad tech with media-buying teams’ continuing with their own ‘supply-path optimization efforts‘ likely to spur any transparency recommendations made by the ANA later this year.

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