How to Pick an Ad Server – Part III: Rich Media, Targeting & Optimization

Rich Media is an established component of media buys today.  Having rich media capabilities is a requirement of an ad server.  Eyeblaster and Pointroll are different than flash and shockwave and most buyers want these two capabilities to come together.  DC is the only ad server that has integrated them to any extent with Motif.  The problem is that you have to build your rich media using Motif and then you can’t use the media on any other ad server other than DC.  That means you’re stuck if you use more than one ad server.  Word too the wise, many agencies are forced to use more than one ad server because clients have contracts with ad servers too.  Building on proprietary platforms like Motif can cause you trouble when it comes time to having to run creative on another ad server.  Just because the other ad servers don’t serve Eyeblaster and Pointroll doesn’t mean that they can’t measure, track and report on them.  Most of them can.


Targeting is another inherently essential component.  When evaluating the ad servers make sure that you can do all of the most common forms of targeting.  Geo should be at least DMA (down to the city level) from a reputable source and should also extend to whatever global region you require.  If an ad server does not cover a region you need, ask if they will add it as it’s not hard to do.  Ad servers that are willing to accommodate your needs during the buy cycle can be a great sign of flexibility and indicative of a potentially strong working relationship in the future.  “We don’t do that,” reactions are a sign of inflexibility and will resurface in the kind of customer service you will receive in the future.


Ask about cookie-targeting as well.  This is something that is glossed over the most frequently.  How an advertiser or agency can leverage an ad server’s cookies can be pretty amazing.  The Big 3 will charge you handsomely for custom cookie targeting so watch out for the hidden costs.  But a company like TruEffect and [X+1] who leverage cookies in their technologies can really offer great customer targeting features.  Behavioral targeting is event-based targeting, so call it what it is.  I’ve covered this is in other posts.  See:


• “Audience Screening is also Behavioral Targeting, Event-based and Anonymous Targeting
•  “What’s Wrong with Behavioral Targeting


Using pixels to track someone’s behavior on an advertiser’s site or on a network, and then targeting that behavior with an ad later is valuable.  The results have proven some up-tick in performance but Boomerang and Atlas DRIVEpm charge a premium for this service and the ROI is not there for many advertisers.  In my post:: “Why Am I So Frustrated with Behavioral Targeting – Do I Really Know Something,” I introduce re-targeting.  First Party Ad Serving, what TruEffect calls DirectServe, allows an advertiser to recognize its existing customers, registrants or users while advertising online so that they can be distinguished from an unknown individual and messaged to differently in real-time.  This is not event-based targeting but re-targeting.  Behavioral targeting/event-based targeting/re-messaging should be a common feature.  Re-targeting is a patented capability of TruEffect so forgive me for the plug.


Optimization capabilities are very important.  I have talked in previous posts about auto-pilot and its abuse.  See: “Site Optimization and Ad Serving.”  But the premise of site optimization, being able to weight rotations, placements and banner plays is a must.  All of the dominant ad servers offer this capability.  The only ad server that I hear problems about is Zedo.  Because their ad server appears to be a publisher solution twisted around to serve advertisers and agencies, the ad serving logic does not work properly and the optimization does not work.  I have had clients tell me that when they set their prioritization schemes, Zedo still plays things wrong and poorly performing placements still get dominant exposure even when dialed down.  So ROI–optimization does not work properly, yet.  Auto-optimization features like impression-based, click-based and post-click-based should be available with whatever ad server you choose.  Just don’t intend to turn it on and walk away because that is not what it is meant to do.  You do have to do some work when you use an ad server, that is, if you want optimal ROI.

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