How To Make Proper Use Of Ad Networks
There are three primary categories of ad networks. The first: general networks with lots of impressions served over a number of small, medium and in some cases second -tier large sites. These are the usual suspects when putting together a media plan and include such industry staples as Valueclick, Advertising.com and Tribal Fusion. The second category is behavioral networks: companies that use the same inventory as the general networks, but tend to layer technology for targeting over the top, such as Blue Lithium.
The third category of network is vertical networks: those companies that aggregate together inventory in a specific vertical and provide a singular service to advertisers trying to reach a targeted audience. This category includes GoFish (kids' inventory) Jumpstart (auto inventory), Glam (women-targeted) and Sportgenic (sports-targeted). There are two ways to use this inventory that match up to your client's objectives -- but I rarely hear of planners using them correctly.
The primary way that media planners use these networks is to achieve direct response goals. Most every media planner will layer networks onto their ad buys and negotiate down the CPMs, place a pixel tracker on the client's site and measure through to conversions. Many people will negotiate a little further and pay only on a CPA basis, depending on the forecasted conversion and what ROI the network feels it will make and can charge on the back-end.
In most cases this tactic guarantees your client will get second- or third-tier inventory, being bumped by any advertiser willing to pay a CPM. This can work out just fine if you only care about direct response measures, but the flaw here is when media planners layer four or sometimes five or more ad networks onto the same campaign.
The dirty little secret here is that much of the network inventory comes from the same places and most publishers are working with multiple networks, so if you're layering multiple networks on top of one another for a campaign, you're likely building lots of duplication into your plan and generating a much higher frequency of exposure than could possibly be effective! High frequency can translate into burnt-out ad units and poor returns. It's better to identify no more than three ad networks for a given ad buy and attempt to calculate a duplication report for those three players. If you have more than 50% duplication, then your campaign will likely be less effective than if you reduced the overlap.
The second erroneous way I hear of media planners using ad networks is when they consistently overlook them as a proper branding vehicle. To date, across all media, reach and frequency are still applicable metrics (trust me; I tried to argue against this many years before and I realized I was incorrect) -- and a branding campaign relies on these two primary metrics, along with impact and attentiveness. To build a brand you first need reach followed by the means to make an Impact on the consumer, or drive what I call the "epiphany point" (that moment when a consumer consciously recognizes they are being marketed to and assertively shows interest or passes the message by). This point can be achieved through strong, very-well-thought-out creative, and therefore frequency can be adjusted, as a result of impact and attentiveness.
Ad networks represent a tool for generating massive reach across networks of small to medium-sized sites at a very cost-effective price. You can negotiate a low CPM here and support any campaign that uses primary portals or even offline activity to speak to its audience. Unfortunately, many media planners overlook this fact and focus their efforts on driving clicks with ad networks, thereby devaluing their own creative by not committing to the value of the exposure itself and the potential impact of a strong creative execution!
If you're using the ad networks correctly, even within the vertical category and the behavioral category, you must once again examine duplication, which is even more important on a branding effort where reach is of significant value! You want to limit frequency and extend reach against your target audience, thereby increasing the wide swath of the impact of your campaign!
The ad networks get a bum rap because of the improper ways they're utilized, but if you use them correctly, they are still a VERY significant tool in the arsenal -- though certainly not the tent-pole strategy that many media planners profess them to be. They are a tactic - just one tactic in the toolbox of online media. They are not a strategy unto themselves.