Last week PaidContent gave us an update on Sambreel Holdings, a fast-growing purveyor of browser plugins and other software that can alter ad space on premium websites. Some of Sambreel's products work by displacing ad positions on sites like About.com, Google.com, NYTimes.com and other publishers, and then inserting new ads that Sambreel sells through its own channels – chief among them ad exchanges and sell-side platforms (SSPs).
As PaidContent's Jeff Roberts noted, Sambreel appears to be growing its inventory dramatically. PubMatic, Rubicon Project, and OpenX are among the companies that collectively were used to sell tens of billions of impressions per month over the late summer and early fall, according to AdExhanger sources. Some estimates put the company's ad traffic close to 100 billion monthly impressions, which would have a material revenue impact on those SSPs.
However, under pressure from publishers, a number of exchanges and SSPs tell AdExchanger they are now suspending the company's tags. Contacted by AdExchanger, Rubicon Project, PubMatic, and OpenX say they have quit working with Sambreel or its subsidiaries – LLCs and products with names such as PageRage, Yontoo, and Alactro. There are dozens of names and tags in all.
PubMatic conducted its own research after being made aware of the rising inventory volume around the middle of September, and finally made the decision to suspend Sambreel within the last two weeks.
Speaking with AdExchanger, Pubmatic President Kirk McDonald said, "We're going to walk away from the revenue in Q4 proactively, because we didn't like the answers we were getting [from Sambreel]. We didn't feel like they were answers we could bring back to publishers."
He added the decision was not based on legal or ethical considerations, but rather on the concerns of PubMatic publisher clients. And he left the door open to Sambreel's reform, saying, "We suspended the tags with the understanding that if Sambreel comes into compliant behavior, not use this particular PageRage tool, and do other things that publishers don't find a compromising conquest of their pages, [they may return]. We did not suspend them with the understanding that we would never work with them again. We are not making a judgment call about whether this is ethically right or wrong, legally right or wrong. It's in these grey areas that you're glad you have mission statements and values."
Rubicon and OpenX also tell us they have severed ties with Sambreel, but both declined to say when or to share their reasons for doing so.
Meanwhile Google's DoubleClick Ad Exchange also does not accept Sambreel-related inventory, no surprise since Google says its own sites have been targeted by Sambreel-proffered software. We also tried to reach Yahoo's Right Media but haven't heard back. Yahoo has declined comment for previous stories on Sambreel.
Even though much of the pressure on SSPs to drop Sambreel appears to us to be coming from publishers, we've spoke with buy-side sources who tell us they are keenly aware of the company's practices. Independent trading desk Digilant began noticing in the past month large amounts of duplicate inventory for certain publishers, and at dramatically varying CPMs. Chief Operating Officer Nathan Woodman said, "We are actively pursuing, scanning for duplication. We are trying to look for instances where ads are served in multiple places at the same time. That's an indication that it could be adware."
Since beginning to investigate, one independent trading desk has added approximately 40 domains to its blacklist.
As of late 2011, Sambreel and its subsidiaries had begun serving ads displacing Facebook, Google, and Yahoo ad inventory. As detailed by the Wall Street Journal at the time, the ads occasionally featured major brands. According to reports by Fox 5 San Diego and PCWorld, Facebook then responded, sending the company cease and desist letters among other actions.
Sambreel Holdings and two of its subsidiaries then filed an anti-trust suit against Facebook in March. That litigiousness is one reason a number of sources declined to go on the record. The lawsuit contends that Facebook, among other things, illiegally organized a group boycott to maintain a monopoly on the digital ad space and unlawfully scanned computers of its users for the Yontoo product.
To seasoned digital marketers, the rise of Sambreel harkens back to the heyday of Gator (later Claria), the adware company that served ad overlays on the websites of publishers from 1999 to 2006. Some sources characterized Sambreel's rise as the second coming of Gator – with the added rocket fuel of real-time bidding to help it source demand.
Sambreel did not answer multiple calls and emails seeking comment.