I just finished reading Andy Atherton’s Media Post article regarding eliminating channel conflict between publishers and ad networks. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, as we hear daily about the fear of channel conflict from our prospective publisher partners. Andy suggested some interesting ‘fences’ publishers could put up and I’d like to share my thoughts about each one.
Blind networks only
To me, this is a drastic ‘fence.’ I understand the reason Andy mentioned this – many networks in the past, and some currently, have adopted selling practices which allow for site specific representation in the marketplace even though the site may not have agreed to or even been aware of this. If I were a publisher and found out that a network was selling my inventory on an individual and transparent basis, I certainly would cut that network out of my inventory rotation. That being said, there are several networks in the marketplace, including Undertone, who are not completely blind yet avoid channel conflict by selling in a way that does not interfere with direct sales efforts. Providing examples of sites to prospective clients, and sometimes a ‘will not run outside of’ list gives clients a sense of security while helping to ensure that they do not bypass publishers by working with networks. Telling a client they may or may not run an unknown number of impressions across site X does not give them the same type of experience they would get by working with site X directly.
No delivery guarantees
I disagree here. In order to drive CPMs across the industry, networks need to be able to monetize each impression and user as effectively as possible. If impressions are delivered evenly for network buys, clients’ campaigns will perform better, thereby allowing them to pay higher CPMs which will then result in higher publisher payouts.
Auction based delivery
Although I agree with this method when measuring networks with standard product offerings, networks with non-standard differentiated solutions should be evaluated separately. We work with many publishers who place our inventory higher in the queue than other networks who pay higher rates because of the overall package we bring to the table and the value proposition we offer.
Maintain creative standards
The worst thing a publisher can do is degrade the value of a site and thereby the overall user experience. This happens time and time again with some great comScore 500 publishers who partner with networks that center on very direct response focused clients. Some publishers do not realize that the advertising messaging surrounding their content has a direct impact on the user experience, and they should for that reason partner with networks who match high quality advertising with high quality content. Maintaining creative standards is a must for any reputable publisher looking to drive revenue and performance for their clients.
I’m glad Andy wrote this article because channel conflict has been a hot topic for many publishers recently. That being said, I think the bigger issue at hand is the pricing and performance metric model which we as an industry currently utilize. Tracking performance by clicks or attributing actions based on the last cookie dropped are flawed metrics that cause some networks to buy below-the-fold ad units or ad units in cluttered environments. Buying this type of inventory may produce mediocre results based on these metrics, but they do not truly affect a user’s intent to purchase or increase brand awareness.
We need to come up with an attribution model that truly shows how every ad unit viewed in the purchase cycle affects users. Microsoft took a step toward achieving this with their engagement mapping model they introduced in testing mode last year. I hope that models like this gain traction because once that happens and these models are widely accepted, networks will be able to pay publishers the CPMs they deserve based on performance, not just based on market supply pricing. That is the main issue here – publishers will be happy to have their name in the marketplace (up to a point) if they feel the value they’re getting in return is worthwhile.
While a more accurate industry wide tracking system is developed that will attribute performance properly across all ad units users see, there is an immediate and more practical solution to avoid channel conflict. Publishers can partner with trusted networks that value their publisher relationships, reduce the over-supply of inventory which does exist in the industry (nobody wants or needs leaderboards at the bottom of the page, or the four ad units above the fold) and ensure that publishers are going to market with differentiated, high impact, integrated product offerings that networks are not able to reproduce.