The digital advertising landscape is constantly in flux. It’s both a testament to the innovative minds driving online technological advancements and the power of human society to evolve their ideals in lock-step. 

It’s no longer advantageous to work behind closed doors and walled gardens. 

Buyers are wary, and the less-than-savory practices of the last decade are failing fast. For the industry, these three words will define the coming era: transparency, quality, and performance.

To get a detailed look at the new lay of the land, we talked with Jayson Dubin, CEO of Playwire, an advertising technology platform and partner powering monetization for thousands of publishers across the globe.

Great Branding: It Matters

Dubin begins our conversation with a simple question: “What makes a brand great?”

If you look at the programmatic advertising landscape, you’ll see the same powerhouses dominating the market. In fact, according to Jounce Media, the authority on all things programmatic supply chain, the top 500 companies capture 95% of all DSP ad spend. That includes publishers, sales houses, and content owners.

The industry overwhelmingly trusts these top companies. In short, their ad products drive business outcomes for marketers. What makes these brands stand out? As Dubin tells us, “Great brands never talk about themselves.” 

Take a look at Nike. While the footwear behemoth is now a household name, that wasn’t the case in the early 1970s. They made their mark not talking about their shoes, quality, or materials but rather about their customers. 

They built their running shoes for dedicated athletes. 

Those folks running every day, rain or shine, no matter what. Nike positioned itself as the runners' go-to brand; its growth and success speak for itself. 

So, how can brands in the ad industry be like Nike? How can they crack into the top spots and build sustainable growth? 

As Dubin preaches, “It’s all about transparency, quality, and performance.” 

The Shift Towards Transparency and Quality

To illustrate why transparency and quality are so important, let’s talk about the players killing the industry's reputation, and that’s made-for-advertising (MFA) sites. These are sites that are, well, made for advertising. 

Dubin tells us that these platforms “appear, at first glance, as prime real estate for advertisers,” but a closer look reveals the “dark secrets.”

And the unfortunate truth: “This is the gray area a lot of people are living in.” 

You see, these MFA sites are gaming the system. When advertisers ask for inventory that delivers on metrics like viewability, these MFAs simply jam-pack their sites with ads. Advertisers get what they want on paper but rarely see the real value they expect.

It’s not some secret, either. 

Dubin lets us know that “the industry is hyper-aware that the programmatic landscape is ripe with low-quality publishers like MFAs.” According to a recent ANA Programmatic Media Supply Chain Transparency Study, 15% of programmatic spending and 21% of impressions come from these low-quality MFAs.

We know MFA sites are bad practice, but what does this insight mean for the industry at large — especially for publishers focused on driving value? 

Here is where transparency comes into play.

Transparency can help buyers and sellers evaluate ROI based on more accurate information. It can also promote more active participation in the auction environment.

For advertisers, it means knowing where ads are placed, who sees them, and how much they pay for each interaction. With the modern programmatic supply chain, this is easier said than done.

We need better systems. As Dubin tells us, ”The companies that are innovating, the companies that are going to the next level, those are the companies that will survive.”

On the other side of the transaction are publishers. For them, reputation defines success. 

Top buyers in the industry try to know the inventory they’re purchasing, so dealing in gray practices like MFA won’t get you far. Dubin explains that “the real MVPs of publishing” aren’t just “whipping up incredible content.” They’re “magnetizing users organically, and they play the ad game like pros.”

They know they need to perform to get a piece of that ad spend pie.

What Does Good Look Like?

Viewability is quickly becoming the go-to metric for assessing the value of ad inventory. For those not in the know, viewability metrics cover whether site visitors saw an ad.

Dubin says, “You want your ads to be as visible as a flash of brilliance in a sea of mediocrity.” It’s not just about being seen, though; “it’s about making an impact that’s both subtle and powerful.”

Performance? The unfortunate truth is that our transparency problem means data scarcity is a real issue. Most sites simply don’t offer the data needed to measure performance reliably — especially smaller publishers.  

So, what does this mean for the industry? 

It means that the status quo is shifting. As Dubin tells us, “Unless you're investing in your business, if you’re just doing the bare minimum or not adding value, your days are limited.”

Across the entire programmatic supply chain, each player needs to innovate. For Dubin, they’re simply “too much redundancy” and not enough companies “facing the hard questions about some of the issues in the industry.” 

Publishers can’t simply look to those top companies and copy their moves. Remember viewability? Well, those top 500 publishers don’t necessarily trounce the competition in metrics like viewability, video completion rates, and IVT. In fact, if you’re looking at the data, they don’t.

What separates them from the pack is their inventory’s ability to convert. 

Their ad products influence customer decision-making and result in higher conversion metrics — by a large percentage.

Preparing for the Future

As we look to the future horizons of programmatic advertising, the playbook is being rewritten. It's not just about adapting to change; it's about leading it.

Dubin tells us that "innovation isn't a one-time effort; it's a continuous process.” 

Users are no longer in the dark when it comes to privacy, advertisers are wary of where they’re placing their ads, and publishers can no longer re-visit the same content strategies to get by. This change is partly driven by a growing demand for transparency and respect for user privacy, which is reshaping how advertisers approach their campaigns and how publishers offer up user data.

For the latter, the future is about balancing monetization with the user experience. Dubin advises, "It's a tightrope walk, but those who master it will reap the rewards."

As the issues plaguing the programmatic advertising industry come further to light and solutions are forged, it will present a challenging environment for everyone involved. “A lot of publishers are going to need to have some short-term pain for some long-term gain,” Dubin explains. But, in the end, “quality content, meaningful engagements, and a relentless pursuit of excellence are what will define success in this new era."