Ad Tech

Why some in the ad-tech industry are turning to this web crawler to help untangle digital advertising

“So much of ad tech is not written, not defined,” Mike O’Sullivan, Sincera’s co-founder, told us.
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· 5 min read

Though terms like bid requests, CPCs, and server-side ad insertion may appear technical and intimidating, ad tech isn’t quite as opaque as you might think—that is, of course, if you know where to look.

A platform called Sincera, started last year by two product managers-turned-founders, is aiming to bring clarity (and hard data) to technology that can often feel like a digital knot of spaghetti noodles, rather than the sophisticated, shiny tools the ad-tech industry claims have been perfected.

“If you’re willing to dive into the details, if you’re willing to get yourself a little bit muddy, you can look and see what’s happening,” Ian Meyers, who worked at customer data platform LiveRamp before starting Sincera, explained to Marketing Brew.

Essentially, Sincera operates web crawlers (sort of like browsing robots) that can interact with the code underpinning the internet, piecing together a detailed view of the digital advertising ecosystem. What does the New York Times’s tech stack look like? It’s there. What percentage of sites crawled by Sincera are using the latest version of Prebid? There ya go.

Most of its clients are using the tech to help find “competitive gaps” between themselves and their competition, Sincera co-founder Mike O’Sullivan said, explaining that an SSP could ask for a list of sites that competitors are active on, but it isn’t, for instance, essentially creating potential leads for new business.

If a company wanted to know how much ad inventory is on a given publisher’s site, Sincera could provide data on ad density, which could be valuable to tech companies focused on attention-based metrics, O’Sullivan said. Or, Meyers explained, someone in the industry might want to know how many other companies have adopted a new piece of tech, like Google’s FLEDGE proposal, before investing time and energy figuring it out on their own.

Meyers met O’Sullivan, who previously worked at programmatic ad marketplace Index Exchange, while working on an integration between their two former companies. Each realized that their respective employers had questions they’d invested a lot of time and money in answering.

They figured that was not an isolated experience. Since starting in early 2022, Sincera now has 10 clients, O’Sullivan said, including Index Exchange, LiveRamp, data management platform Lotame, and digital ad verification company Integral Ad Science.

A subscription costs $10,000 a month, but clients looking for a more white-glove service, with things like private web crawls, must pay more “due to the increased server costs involved.” O’Sullivan said that Sincera is planning to roll out a la carte pricing and a less expensive offering for publishers later this year, which will focus on the ad tech that publishers are using. There’s also currently a free version with fewer capabilities.

Sincera is part of a new wave of companies, including the consultancy Jounce Media, fraud-detection firm DeepSee, and digital ad analysis firm Adalytics, that work with the industry (and journalists) to help crack the tough nuts of ad tech.

  • It provided data to Marketing Brew regarding which advertisers had installed TikTok’s tracking pixel and which SSPs Vox Media was still working with after creating its own.
  • It also provided data to AdExchanger that helped show the scale of cookieless identifier adoption by illustrating which IDs were actually being used.
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There’s often a lack of transparency in the ad-tech world, largely the result of competition, Ari Paparo, an ad-tech veteran and an investor in Sincera, explained. “Data is at the heart of programmatic. But it is very difficult to get access to a broad enough data set on your own or from your programmatic partners. So independent data companies show up,” he wrote in an email.

Though the company isn’t yet working with agencies, O’Sullivan provided a few use cases where it could make sense, like for auditing and evaluating partners and publishers.

Myles Younger, head of innovation and insights at U of Digital, explained that “there’s no God’s-eye view of ad tech and digital advertising” like there has been with television, which has historically relied on Nielsen, or other traditional media.

“The sheer complexity of the ad-tech ecosystem makes it a textbook stomping ground for consultants,” he said.

True ad-tech nerds playing with Sincera can see what analytics software it detects on a publisher’s site and what identity providers and SSPs it appears to be working with.

Is it weedy? Yes. But for clients, it might be a step toward more transparency without having to learn JavaScript.

“So much of ad tech is not written, not defined…One of the reasons Sincera is able to be effective [is because] we know exactly how these solutions work because we built them,” O’Sullivan said.

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