Are You Being Served?
By Brian Howard
When the Internet was young and invincible, banner ads and pop-up ads were all the rage. When the curtain was pulled back to reveal that the Internet was less than we thought, banners and pop-ups were a scourge. Now that we're figuring out what the medium can and cannot do, cooler heads are prevailing.
Banners and pop-ups can be an important part of the media mix, especially given the state of the economy. And the way to get these ads on Internet sites other than your own is through an ad-serving company that will deliver your ads to sites you've bought space on and provide reports on their performance.
"When we entered the war in Iraq, we saw lots of our clients who pulled their television advertising, but shifted some of that money and stayed advertising online," says Stacey Nachtaler, regional president of iTraffic, a subsidiary of Agency.com, which is an interactive marketing and technology agency. "Online is something that they see immediately if they're getting results, and it's become a very critical part of their means of hitting their numbers."
But staffing the requisite ad sales and IT force to do it yourself in this ever-morphing medium might not make sense.
Your options range from choosing a full-service agency like iTraffic—which will handle every aspect of the campaign from creative to media buying—to companies like Zedo or 24/7 Real Media that specialize in the technology aspect of the ad-serving equation. And these choices are not mutually exclusive.
"Ad serving has a lot of targeting technologies which can be very helpful," explains Nachtaler. "If a publisher wanted to serve advertising at a specific time of day—let's say British Airways is having a seat sale, and they want to sell leisure economy tickets, and the seat sale has to start at a certain time. … We would use ad serving to set what time we want that ad to be served, we would cap the frequency of how many times we want our audience to see it, and we can even say what days we want it to run."
iTraffic outsources the technology functions to an ad-serving firm to ensure that the ad is delivered when and to whom they specified.
"When you're an advertiser, you need a system to track your ad, because you're paying for each one," explains Roy de Souza, CEO of Zedo. "You can't just create an ad and e-mail it to a site; [the site] could e-mail you back and say 'I've served a million, please send me a check.' The question is, were the ads served, and, more importantly, were they served at the right time, and the right place and the right date?"
Ad-serving technology verifies these important aspects.
Zedo offers clients a self-service Web interface for the managing and tracking of campaigns.
Another option is to license ad-serving technology. Interactive marketing company 24/7 Real Media both serves ads and does licensing. Companies like Playboy.com and Weather.com run 24/7 Real Media's Open AdStream tool in house.
The decision to license is mostly a factor of company size, says David Moore, chairman and CEO of 24/7 Real Media. "The companies who license our technology tend to be fairly successful Web companies. … It's the smaller sites that can't afford their own sales force who seek our help in monetizing their site overall."
Selecting the media your ads will be served to is another important consideration. There are two schools of thought on this subject, which revolve around the fact that some ad-serving companies—like 24/7 and DoubleClick—also have proprietary media networks.
You can get good deals on affiliated media; but the potential for conflict of interest exists.
"If you go directly to ad servers," says iTraffic's Nachtaler, "they're going to end up giving you what serves them best—they're going to want to sell you their own media. It's not the best way to be buying media at all."
24/7 Real Media's Moore feels differently. "We sell advertising on all [our] sites," he says, "but if we see that one of our clients' objectives can be enhanced by going outside of that network, we do that."
There's also the question of how much time to give a campaign to judge its performance.
"Clients are very quick to say 'let's get rid of it' after 48 hours," explains Nachtaler. "You need to wait at least two weeks. … Sites typically do not ramp up the full impression load on your creative right away. It takes time."