Mike Lewis is President and Co-Founder of Ad-Juster, an ad server discrepancy management company.
As you have said in your release, Ad-Juster looks to solve "two of the digital ad industries major pain points: 3rd party reporting and discrepancy identification." Can you share momentum you have seen with Ad-Juster's product in 2009? And, who needs this the most, in your opinion? The publisher, the advertiser or the ad network?
ML: We at Ad-Juster have been overwhelmed by the positive response that we've received from our target audience. We emerged from beta in April of this year and in only 3-1/2 months we have collected a very impressive clientèle and continue to attract major publishers. In an environment where publishers are struggling and budgets are tight, Ad-Juster continues to close sales at a rapid rate. Our ROI is clear, publishers save money using our system. Since we offer a publishers significant cost savings, this economy in many ways is helping our sales process. We have also received a very warm welcome from AdMonsters. AdMonsters has helped us identify and refine our view of the digital publishers' pain points in the area of discrepancy and third party reporting. Our core customers today are primarily online publishers and ad networks, however our system has clear applications and benefits for advertisers as well.
What is the current state of standards around ad serving and reporting? What needs to change, if anything, in your opinion?
We think that the Interactive Ad Bureau (IAB) has done a great job over the last decade working with both publishers and advertisers to standardize everything from placement sizes to terms and conditions to accounting rules for impression and click counting. However no standards exist in reporting today. This can be observed by any publisher that is reliant on more than one third party ad server to collect billing numbers at the end of the month. Every technology has its own format and system for delivering reports, whether it be email, direct login, or in the rarest of cases an API for direct connection. The IAB has recently released a draft specification for a universal report, which, if implemented by all third party ad servers, could help simplify the problem. Unfortunately as it stands today, we don’t think this specification really goes far enough to lay out rules for how data should be exchanged and what implementations will be available for publishers and advertisers to use this data. The proposed IAB solution may also encounter some technical challenges and some quite possibly serious adoption challenges – and it won’t truly be useful until it’s 100% adopted by all ad serving companies, publishers and agencies. We believe this is where Ad-Juster comes into the picture. By connecting to each ad server platform using their native interface, centralizing that data, and normalizing it into a defined standard, Ad-Juster serves as the reference implementation of the IAB's Impression Exchange System (IES). We further simplify the IES specification since we do not require a new unique identifier to be managed by publishers, we use only the information that is currently contained in the ad server's ad tag to correlate and reconcile daily delivery information, hence no adoption or technical changes by all ad platforms is required – Ad-Juster is usable today.
How can yield optimization companies benefit from your company? Many manage relationships between 100s of ad networks and millions of publishers, after all.
Yield optimization is a complex and model intensive process. Many of these systems make delivery decisions based on the current performance and value of many ads available for selection. However, these decisions are often made with the assumption of either an expected delivery or a fixed expectation of discrepancy. In some cases yield management tools will allow for manual adjustment to discrepancy expectation, however none that I am aware of make these decisions on precise real-time discrepancy data. By providing yield management tools with a more accurate view of the ad delivery landscape, they will be able to make better decisions on what to deliver and when, from an effective CPM (eCPM) perspective. The bottom line is that yield management companies today are optimizing on the wrong numbers. They are calculating net effective CPMs based on publisher side data. Ad-Juster can provide them with the 3rd party data so they can better manage yield based on the right numbers.
Ad-Juster would seem to be another tool in the world of media delivery verification such as company like DoubleVerify. Any plans to provide conversion verification?
Ad-Juster does not really see itself as a verification tool. Our system provides business intelligence to our customers by pulling together large sets of readily available information, aggregating it, correlating and reconciling it, then presenting it to our customer in an easy to consume format that allows for shorter time to reaction. For example, one of our primary audiences is the ad trafficker within a digital publisher's organization. Their job is to make sure that campaigns are set up properly and going to deliver in full. Their job, before Ad-Juster, consisted of collecting information from potentially dozens of 3rd party ad servers, pulling their delivery data into a single spreadsheet, and figuring out which 3rd party campaign line items matched their locally served placements. This process could take up to a few days depending upon the complexity and depth of the publisher's advertising client base. With Ad-Juster, the trafficker can get right to tasks of optimizing campaigns, identifying and repairing mis-trafficked campaigns, and adjusting campaign parameters to meet contractual obligations on a daily basis simply by setting up a report which will be delivered to their inbox each morning. We remove manual and error prone steps from the process of digital ad serving. Most publishers don’t pull all 3rd party data on a daily basis due to the time constraints and work involved, so due to the daily delivery task performed by Ad-Juster, we also provides the added benefit of optimizing on a more timely basis and identifying trafficking errors that cause discrepancies more quickly.
Does the ad exchange model represent any special challenges in ad serving and discrepancies?
The largest impact ad exchanges have had on the industry has been on the breadth of advertisers that publishers now have access to. While 3 years ago a small publisher may have only done business with 3 different advertisers, that same publisher may do business with 10-20 in any given month. This has greatly increased the complexity of that publisher's ad trafficking operations. They are often now faced with the options of hiring more internal staff or outsourcing trafficking and reporting duties to specialized service companies. The value of a single Ad-Juster report to give them a view of their digital ad operations becomes more and more valuable as this breadth increases. Another complexity that ad exchanges bring is that they represent another hop in the delivery of ad content. A publisher delivering an ad exchange tag may have 2 or more additional ad server calls made before the final advertisement is delivered. Each new level of hopping represents more work to track down potential errors and more opportunity for discrepancies to occur. Ad-Juster helps to manage this complexity by automatically discovering 4th party ad tags when possible as well as allowing users to manually map these relationships with our trafficking module.
It would appear that rich media ad serving companies such as PointRoll and EyeWonder may provide even more complexity. Can Ad-Juster help with digital video campaigns?
The more complex the rich media and the larger the file sizes, the larger the problem of discrepancies becomes. Trends are moving in favor of an Ad-Juster solution. Increasing complexity in rich media tags is only one area where Ad-Juster provides tremendous value. We currently decipher and interpret creative ad tags for standard impression tags, click trackers, impression trackers, video tags (start of video, 25%, finish tags), and a wide array of other exotic tags. We can then use each of these unique identification elements to map the locally served creative to multiple third party delivery elements. We can separately track each of these and provide the publisher with a single view of these various dimensions of their performance. This problem will only continue to get more and more complex as rich media continues to evolve and creates more and more different ways to deliver this content.
In that Ad-Juster sees many campaigns, it could provide insight on industry norms such as average impression discrepancy rates for particular ad networks, publishers and advertisers. Or by verticals or horizontals. Have you considered a "Dow Jones Industrial Average", so to speak, for key metrics you track? (PubMatic's Ad Price Index could be another corollary.)
Does Ad-Juster see more traction with brand or direct response marketers?
Most of our publishers today are considered "premium" publishers and are selling both directly to brand teams and agencies on a CPM basis, and since CPM rates tend to be higher than direct response, I’d say today it’s had the most impact on brand marketers. However, even premium publishers often outsource some degree of inventory on a CPC or CPA basis to a network specializing in that. Since Ad-Juster can retrieve and reconcile every ad delivery metric (Impression, Clicks, actions, or any measurable event), it’s really relevant to both.
Why should brand advertisers care about Ad-Juster?
While most brand advertisers have the contractual advantages in their relationship with publishers, there are still significant reasons to want access to real-time delivery and discrepancy information. The "cost" of managing digital media today is significant. Much of the fees paid to agencies by brand teams are incurred as part of the friction costs of executing on digital media. Ad-Juster reduces those friction costs, allows the publisher to more readily and accurately optimize a campaign and reach their delivery goals, and thus in the long-run, saves the brand team money. While the direct revenue risk to a brand from under-performing campaigns is small since advertisers will only pay publishers based on their own delivery counts, there are several indirect friction costs in managing media that is under-performing. The primary cost or risk which the advertiser or agency exposes themselves to is contractual reinsertion. When campaigns do not perform fully, often times this means under performance is rolled over into the next month or year. This contractual modification can represent a substantial percent of monthly operating expenses. The second impact to advertisers' cost is the need to set up and maintain publisher access accounts on their ad servers reporting system. While we do not currently work directly with advertisers, our plans are to extend our automatic reconciliation services to them with the intention of dramatically reducing this internal cost of doing business. Ad-Juster allows the agency to operation more efficiently and spend more time on the analytics and creative aspects of campaign management and less on manual labor and billing reconciliation.
How do you see the agency model adjusting (no pun intended) in the next few years? Do you view directs or agencies as your sweet spot in the future?
We don't necessarily see a preference between directs and agencies, both pose and suffer from the same underlying issue of non-centralized data. We believe the biggest change that will occur within the digital advertising industry over the next several years in the area of reporting and discrepancy reconciliation will be the centralization of delivery data. To reuse the Dow Jones analogy, today the equities markets finalize the day's trades in a central location every night after trading has ceased. This central location is referred to as a clearing house. Ad-Juster believes it is positioned to offer a solution to the need for a central clearing house in digital advertising. Aggregating, correlating, reconciling and redistributing daily "truth" data back to the publishers and advertisers who will now be able to remain in sync with each other through the life cycle of each digital campaign. This will truly revolutionize the way digital ad operations are done today.
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