Today's column is written by Brian O'Kelley, CEO at AppNexus.
Ad networks are an integral part of today’s display advertising ecosystem and I find the oft-cited reports of their demise greatly exaggerated. In one form or another, this industry is dependent upon ad networks and the important role they play, and sophisticated ad networks are continually evolving their businesses and capitalizing on exciting new opportunities like real-time bidding.
There are still challenges that networks must face as new players emerge. In order to remain relevant to clients and keep them investing resources online, networks should focus on a few key areas:
1. Be squeaky clean. Running deceptive ads or representing low-quality or ad-heavy sites WILL get you in trouble – and you may not get a second chance. Be wary of running tags from other networks that don't have the same standards you do. Every week, major publishers and networks are hit with malware because they ran third-party tags that looked clean, but weren’t. Common sense and best practices are paramount, but also consider technology solutions that can sniff ad tags for malware, script, rotating tags, and other risky behaviors.
2. Choose the right platform. As the market evolves, you need a technology partner that provides powerful capabilities. At minimum, you need a real-time bidding (RTB) integration with the major exchanges and inventory aggregators. You need to be able to plug in third-party behavioral, contextual, and screening technologies. And, of course, you need world-class workflow and optimization that are built around the unique needs of an ad network. Make sure your platform provider isn't going to show up pitching your agency clients as a DSP!
3. Partner more, arbitrage less. The traditional blind arbitrage network model isn't appealing to agencies that want more tactical and financial control over their spend. Consider making your margins and inventory sources transparent in exchange for greater visibility into the client's campaigns and goals. As an agency partner, you can have more impact and increase your share of the overall budget (but only if you've implemented #1 and #2 above!)
4. Win on service and integration. The ad networks that thrive will be able to integrate best-of-breed technologies into a coherent platform that provides outstanding service. For agencies, it makes sense to outsource complicated campaign execution to partners they can trust to deliver results. Ad networks with an aligned business model and the ability to centralize diverse partners will be a critical part of the ecosystem.
Top-tier networks that understand the true potential of real-time advertising are leading the industry in leveraging the best new technologies with their existing offerings to execute buys on behalf of their clients. These leaders are setting a high bar for the rest of the space, and I look forward to watching (and helping) these networks evolve.