Ad Networks and Ad Servers

The iMedia Agency Summit has prompted a lot of great topic conversation and some great articles that are worthy of comments, reactions and insight. 


A number of clients that we work with come to us with the conundrum of working with both web sites and networks when they advertise online. 


Dave Morgan has professed the rise of ad networks and he is not alone.  Tom Hespos recently wrote how the Brand Value of Ad Networks [is] on the Rise.  There is no doubt that the ad networks are stretching their wings and are trying to move away from being simple aggregators of remnant inventory.


Ad Networks are offering advertisers behavioral targeting.  They are enabling advertisers (at least some ad networks) to customize campaigns by selecting sites or at least site groupings for campaigns when buying by CPM.  Some ad networks are developing hands-on programs to promote branding strategies for advertisers that help the network move away from the pure CPC, CPA model and offer up the opportunity for greater revenue diversification for the network with a better value proposition to the advertiser.  In the end, the networks are trying and with time we’ll see who rises to the top.  See my post on consolidation of networks: Where Behavioral Targeting and CRM Meet, and Where They Can Marry. 


With time we will also see whether the savvier agencies buy into the idea of networks being able to really offer branding and awareness-capable campaign value or if in the end it is about direct response.  Time will tell but I think that the Summit produced some great arguments and there are some good discussions that came out of it.  I’ll tackle some more of them shortly.


Tom Hespos argued in his article that site duplication, when working with multiple networks, is one issue that you need to watch out for in managing online campaigns through networks.  Great point.  He also said the following which was the impetus for this posting:


Another way to minimize duplication is to look at cookie data from past buys. New tools are emerging to look at past campaign data for the purposes of figuring out which networks duplicated the most and for scenario planning with unduplicated reach in mind. Look to your ad server of choice for help with this one.


When we work with advertisers who are using our ad servers, we enable them to take control of their campaigns holistically online, across all the sites and networks they advertise on.  When you work with an ad network you have the choice of letting them serve your ads for you.  No problem there – it’s like letting a site serve your ads only they offer two additional features: (1) They can strategically optimize your creative for you across all the sites in the network upon which they play your ads and (2) they have solid reporting (a lot of them do).  But you can get both of these capabilities with an ad server.  In fact, the reporting with an ad server – by creative – will be far more robust because of post-click analysis and the grand view of the entire campaign (all sites and all networks you advertise for the campaign).  And the ability to centrally manage, rotate and optimize creative across every site AND every network simultaneously will cut way down on the headaches of having each network doing it for you individually.


Looking into the cookie data that an ad server collects for you with regard to your campaigns across ad networks … now that opens up a whole world of possibilities.  Thanks Tom.  If you work with a third-party ad server, what can you find?  What can you see?  First of all, what is available to you?


A third-party ad server covets the data they amass as it is core to the asset they build for profiling and targeting.  The one thing you will not be getting your hands on, is that data.  Ask Atlas for a copy of their log files!  LOL.  However, for a fee, you can get interpretations of that data. 


An ad server can look at the cookie log files and determine publisher, site, site section, banner plus log data like IP, browser type, time of day, etc.  But all of this is historical and can only help you keep tabs on your networks after the fact.  It is a lot of data-digging and will get expensive fast.


Here is another way.  I know that I am always espousing the First Party thing, but check this out … serve through a first-party ad server and use first party cookies.  You can have the ad server write the directly to the cookie: the site, site section and banners played in sequential order in real time.  Then when the lead lands on the advertiser’s designated web page, the advertiser can read the cookie – their first-party cookie – and can see exactly where the lead came from and how the lead was derived.  In fact, not only will the advertiser see how the lead was derived, but sequentially every banner-play that previously led up to the lead-generation. 


When you instrument the tags for the ad server with each network they can trigger markers into the first-party cookie-writing sequence so you will know whether site A came from network 1 or network 2.


This first part stuff, which TruEffect calls DirectServe has a lot going for it.  Check it out when you have time.

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