WTF is SupplyChain Object?

This article is a WTF explainer, in which we break down media and marketing’s most confusing terms. More from the series →

For all the talk of trusted marketplaces and supply-path optimization, buyers still struggle to know who they’re actually buying impressions from. While adoption of the IAB Tech Lab’s sellers.json tool is making it easier to spot some of those intermediaries, it’s not fully possible to view all the players involved without the OpenRTB SupplyChain Object tool.

Like the sellers.json tool, SupplyChain Object is all about demystifying how impressions are sold to them. But while sellers.json reveals information about the final seller of an impression, SupplyChain Object as it makes its way through complicated digital ad systems.  What buyers know less about is how to use all that information to distinguish between those ad tech middlemen that deserve a share of their budget.

Here’s a primer on what to watch out for.

WTF is SupplyChain Object?
Launched alongside sellers.json, SupplyChain Object is pitched as a way to help buyers to remove anonymity in the supply chain. In a nutshell, the tool shows all intermediaries involved in the sale of a particular impression. This trail is mapped across a chain of nodes that represents all the sellers who were paid in an individual bid request, using information including the URL of the seller and the publisher ID. For the tool to work, it has to be included in the bid request for an impression.

“Using both SupplyChain Object and sellers.json in tandem with each other can be eye-opening for buyers,” said Chris Kane, founder of programmatic consultancy Jounce Media. “Rather than make decisions on how to buy impressions based on relationships and intuition, buyers can use both sellers.json and eventually SupplyChain Object to make data-driven decisions on supply-path optimization.”

What does SupplyChain Object tell me that sellers.json won’t?
Sellers.json shows a buyer the first two payment hops in a transaction. Sellers.json shows that demand-side platform X paid supply-side platform Y which paid publisher Z. Or it might show how the payment went from DSP to SSP to reseller. But who does the reseller pay? The publisher? Another intermediary? That’s where SupplyChain Object comes in. If the tool is included in the bid request, then that request would show the full chain of payment all the way back to the publisher. That’s the theory at least, as the adoption of the tool is still a work in progress.

Why aren’t more ad tech players adopting SupplyChain Object?
SupplyChain Object’s role in reconciling ad tech’s issues is debatable. For the tool to leave its mark on ad tech, vendors on both the buy and sell sides must be on the latest OpenRTB protocol a set of procedures from the IAB Tech Lab to bring more clarity to the digital ad supply chain. The protocol poses a technical issue in that it could severely limit the use of SupplyChain Object given the majority of ad tech vendors won’t be on the latest version of OpenRTB, said Dan Larden, managing partner of product and partnerships at programmatic agency Infectious Media. There’s also the fact that Google’s SSP hasn’t adopted a SupplyChain Object yet to consider. For any buyers already struggling to implement a  strategy consistently across digital channels, this SupplyChain Object initiative is only going to add to their list of headaches, said Larden.

How do I get the most from SupplyChain Object?
Buyers that are already using sellers.json and ads.txt will get the most from SupplyChain Object. Insights taken from each node tracked by SupplyChain Object can be cross-referenced against the end seller in the sellers.json file and the names of the ad tech vendors (listed in the ads.txt file) cleared to sell a given publisher’s inventory. Armed with that information, buyers can start to consolidate their spending away from shady sellers peddling fraudulent traffic as well those vendors who are simply reselling impressions to duplicate the number of auctions for the same impression. When that auction duplication happens, buyers can bid multiple times for the same impression, and inadvertently drive up the cost of it.

Wasn’t it already possible to get that clarity in the auction without these tools?
Prior to the arrival of the IAB’s transparency tools, finding out all the players involved in a single bid request was a manual process. A buyer would need to put an identifier into the bid stream, and then ask every SSP to map the ID to the seller to understand which intermediaries received money for the impression. Tools like SupplyChain Object and sellers.json automate that process when it comes to understanding the names and numbers of ad tech vendors taking fees in the supply chain. Nevertheless, the challenge will be how to implement these findings into a successful supply chain strategy as the majority of DSPs still do not allow for any seller ID optimization, said Larden.

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