An eye-opener

Blind sales and distressed inventory could be a thing of the past, thanks to a new type of ad network with quality and targeted spots. By Sean Hargrave

Koodoruth‘Blind’ sales and ‘distressed’ inventory could be a thing of the past, thanks to a new type of ad network with quality and targeted spots. By Sean Hargrave

Online advertising networks have come a long way in just a handful of years. While they had a reputation in the early days of offering “distressed” inventory that big brands were not interested in, they now account for more than a third of all online display advertising in the UK, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau.

By linking media owners that do not have their own advertising sales team with advertisers that want what they see as greater value for money than that provided by premium spots with the major portals, advertising networks still play a role in selling “last minute” space. However, with the massive rise in traffic to social media, blogging and special interest sites that has accompanied the Web 2.0 explosion, there are now many publishers with huge reach, yet no internal advertising sales team, offering brands targeted audiences that cannot be reached directly, claims Richard Sharp, managing director of the VC Media network.

While he is not oblivious to many brands being worried that the Web 2.0 explosion could see an ad placed next to unacceptable adult or hateful content, he assures marketers that responsible networks have taken action through forming the Internet Advertising Sales House (IASH, pronounced “eye-ash”).

Protect and control
“My main advice for anybody considering an advertising network is not to go with a one-man band, but to stick to a company that belongs to IASH,” he says. “It gives brands much needed protection to ensure their content goes where they are comfortable with it appearing. Brands get to choose their level of comfort, within a graded system of content tolerance, so they are in control.”

Certainly the experience of Farhad Koodoruth, managing director of Blowfish Digital, which buys digital space for the likes of La Senza and eBay, is that advertising networks have turned a corner, or at least, the responsible ones have.

“Even if we are buying blind, so we don’t actually know which sites our ads are going to be running on, we will still insist on seeing and approving the list of potential sites,” he says. “You need that visibility and assurance. We find that the good networks will work with us on that and we just won’t work with the rest.”

Steak Media director of strategy Duncan Parry backs up this message that advertising networks can now offer value and accountability. However, he cautions against the latest style of networks, which are pitching themselves as “exchanges”. He believes that, in some cases, this is a reincarnation of cut-price, distressed inventory being sold “blind” en masse.

“The newer exchanges, such as AdJug in the UK or Traffiq in the US, offer inventory from lesser-known sites or distressed inventory, and so quality of placement varies,” he says.

“Networks are far more than distressed inventory and some have high-quality placements. However, the more transparency they offer in reporting the better.”

As broadband has become ubiquitous, there has been a comprehensive move across the Web for sites to provide video content. When it comes to monetising this content, even the biggest players in the market, such as YouTube, have been scratching their heads.

It is an area that ad networks have been quick to move into, because a new area of advertising is what they are made for. Instead of advertisers having to find out which sites are running video content and can accept video advertising, a network offers the proverbial “one-stop shop”. It saves a lot of time, and Jordan Ferguson, managing director of video advertising network VideoEgg, claims it also saves them from worrying about technology and the content their message is going to be seen against.

“We have more than 100 partner sites, including the major social networks such as Hi5 and Metacafe,” he says, “so we’ve got the network in place – somebody doesn’t have to go out there and find it. And we also ensure that ads only go out with video content that is not offensive. We can also assure brands that their ads will not interrupt viewing – a symbol for the ad comes up at the bottom of the screen and, if somebody doesn’t click it, then their video is not shown. It’s completely up to the user.”

Getting to know users
Ad networks were once also seen as not only offering “blind” sales, leading to brands not knowing where their ads were going, but also not telling brands much about the people that were viewing their creative. This is changing as ad networks start to offer campaigns for far better defined demographics. They are even moving into the space of better defining users’ habits, to ensure the most apt ads are placed in front of them.

Tim Brown, European managing director for BlueLithium, which is owned by Yahoo!, believes that what he calls “psychographic” profiling is necessary to ensure advertisers put their message in front of their target audience and boost return on investment for a campaign.

“Just because a male is ’30 to 39 years old’ doesn’t mean he will have an interest in wine, unlike a ‘single male bar frequenter with a high disposable income’,” he says. “Digital media buyers are starting to understand that buying a demographic alone doesn’t guarantee a sale, or even a click. Behavioural targeting offers advertisers an accurate method of predicting true interest against a user’s historical data and dynamic actions.”

This is obviously pleasing to an advertiser – as are the rates. Campaigns can be bought for as little as £1 or £2 per thousand impressions – a major saving on approaching a household name site with its own sales team. 

Sean Hargrave is a freelance journalist

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