Meeting Anari -- And Closing the Door On Ad Networks

This past weekend, I was a substitute at my twin brother's summer gathering called The North South -- an annual golf event with his closest college fraternity brothers. The weekend called for two houses in the beach town of Avalon , N. J. to house seven fraternity brothers, their wives, and the 17 children collectively spawned by this close-knit group of friends.

Friday evening is traditionally when the South team and the North team match up lineups, argue over handicaps and welcome those caught in traffic with warm hugs and cold beers. Keith and his wife Allison were the last to arrive this year, along with their three towheaded children Jack, Kate and Matthew. As they poured out of the car, all of us on the deck above looked down and waved, while our eyes focused on the surprise guest sporting cornrows: a three-year-old girl named Anari, smiling ear-to-ear.

We quickly learned she had been dropped off earlier that afternoon at her new foster parents' house, and was immediately told she was going on a road trip to the beach three hours away with her new temporary family to meet a house full of strangers.

In a matter of minutes after entering the house, Anari stood up on a wooden swivel stool with one hand clutching the back for support, and announced to the mothers in the room huddled around her that it was in fact her birthday. Word spread quickly; in less than 60 seconds a cupcake was found, a candle was lit, and a crowded room of strangers sang "Happy Birthday" to an orphan who had won their hearts instantly and brilliantly.

Over the next two days we learned from Anari it was her birthday again. We learned from Keith and Allison that Anari has two siblings she may be reunited with if a pending adoption comes through -- and we all learned how this positive energy could lift everyone's heart in its vicinity.

I selfishly needed to write about this unique experience with a little girl I met for the first time, picked up and hugged as if I had known her forever, and will never see again. But I am asked to write about the online publishing business, so here is my bridge to a point worth considering.

Trust is all that binds us. Consider the trust the foster care organization has with Keith and Allison to care for their precious inventory; the trust they in turn had in the families they visit with once a year to welcome this child as if she were one of their own; and the trust Anari had for a room full of strangers that her need to be recognized and celebrated would be met, and the ploy she used to acquire this enhanced attention would be ignored.

Trust that is true rewards everyone attached to either end. It's the ultimate win-win. As an industry of online publishing, we are hemorrhaging trust. Users are figuring out more and more everyday that "publishers of online content" cannot be trusted to protect users' rights to privacy.

This privacy issue is not going away -- but "we" will, if we don't take this issue head-on. The critical mistake online publishers are making is that "we" think we are necessary. We're not. Over 50% of the time consumers spend online is spent using the Web to communicate with one another -- not to read our content. Gaining consumer trust is imperative to nourishing and growing the thin slice of online attention our business depends upon. Failure to do so will be catastrophic.

To do that, online publishers must end all their relationships with ad networks. These third-party companies that habitually lie to publishers and advertisers are the dominant reason why users are being tracked to death. If publishers divorce themselves from these third-party relationships, they can gain back the ability to control how they treat the trust of their users.

What would it sound like to users if publishers made it clear that any tracking that can occur on their site would be limited to one company -- and only if the user has granted permission to do so? Would users trust that site more or less?

When publishers agreed to take in ad dollars not sold by their own sales force, they lost their ability to protect the trust of their users. It's time to take it back.

Speaking of time, it's Thursday -- which means it's likely Anari's birthday again.

Happy birthday sweetheart, wherever you are



8 comments about "Meeting Anari -- And Closing the Door On Ad Networks".
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  1. Andrew Connelly from OneSource a division of infoGroup, August 19, 2010 at 1:41 p.m.

    Hi Ari,

    I understand and appreciate your point of view. In your view, what is the best way to monetize ad inventory that is not sold by direct sales? Do you over deliver client inventory? Do you leave the ad space empty? Would love to hear more.....

  2. Daniel Ambrose from, corp., August 19, 2010 at 1:46 p.m.

    Ari, well said.

    The ad network decision rests on another trusting relationship too. Its a relationship that must be built and maintained; the one between a site and its advertisers. Publishers of online content will simply never be able to thrive unless they own the relationships with their advertisers; farming out that relationship to a third party will never do. Enjoy vaca.

  3. Daniel Ambrose from, corp., August 19, 2010 at 1:48 p.m.

    Andrew...the best way to monitize unsold inventory is with house-ads for highly targeted information/products that are perfect for the particular media's audience. Done right, this use of the inventory will also be more profitable than the approach of sharing half of a little bit of revenue from networks.

  4. Craig Spiezle from AgeLight LLC, August 19, 2010 at 1:59 p.m.

    Trust and consumer confidence is the foundation of the future of the internet economy. We can no longer afford to take the stand as “business as usual” and must consider the long term implications and threats. Combined with the wild west and cybercriminals targeting malvertising we risk a consumer “trust melt down”. Can you trust the email? Can you trust the site? Can you trust the ads? The fast majority of advertisers and networks are responsible actors and consumers are realizing a significant value proposition from ad supported content and online services.

    Join OTA at Georgetown University Sept 23/24 for the Online Trust Forum Save 35% use code Sponsor35

  5. Matt Johnson from Evolution Marketing, August 19, 2010 at 2:20 p.m.

    Ari - I get where your coming from and I agree that trust between the publisher and advertiser and consumer is key. However, getting rid of ad networks isn't the only solution - it may be for the larger sites who farm out their remnant inventory, but what about the hundreds of thousands of smaller sites out there that don't really have a sales team. It's just the editor and publisher selling the space. More times than not, readers find these smaller sites more credible than the larger sites, because of local intel or more personal feel. These guys need ad networks, which is exactly why my company exists and is striving to do just what your talking about - except on behalf of the sites we represent. And, who's to say that publishers are not using the same audience tracking tools as the networks, they are? Going by your means here the only thing advertisers are wanting is content relevant to their product or target audience and have no regard for actually is visiting the site. We all know that isn't true. Advertisers want to know exactly who is on your site - so publisher or network - the audience is being tracked. My suggestion, put restrictions as to what types of advertising can be run on your site. Make the ad networks responsible not out of the picture.

  6. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, August 19, 2010 at 2:33 p.m.

    I have a different take on publishing and online ads. After 6 1/2 years as a publisher, my model is more like what the 5 star Las Vegas hotel and casinos. Meaning I will only run quality ads by name brand companies. I go a step farther. I will only post the same quality sweeps and contest. I try to stay with only the well known name brand, Fortune 1,000 companies and respected online websites for sweeps and contest.

    There are two big problem is the fly by night websites. This is self explanatory. The second is the ad networks rarely receive and offer to the publishers the high quality brand names ads. Most goes to Google Adsense and hardly ever for CPA offers anymore.

    What I have been doing to counter this is going back to the old fashion billboard pricing structure. I simply charge a flat montly fee per sweep or contest I run. The big companies love it because they see what they play for in the statistics. No worry about click fraud or anything. The success or failure depends on the quality of the ad/sweep. This means the better sweeps with bigger prizes will nearly always get the most clicks.

    Last... A sweep in text will receive 15 to 20 times more entries than a sweep just in a image banner. When will the market ever learn this?

  7. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, August 19, 2010 at 5:24 p.m.

    Thank you for your comments/feedback.

    Matt -- Ad Networks have lost all credibility and I am not alone in this assessment -- so holding them "accountable" to run "proper ads" is no longer a reality based option. They will say to your face this can be controlled and then they make deals behind your back.

    As a smaller site, SELL your own inventory -- just target your potential clients to those who will care the most about your vertical and passionate audience-- and start off by selling site wide exclusivity for a duration of time (one month, three months, etc) until you build up more demand. If the passion is there to create the site, then the passion is their to sell the ads as well!

    Dan -- we are in agreement. The dollars publishers make by using ad networks are not worth the issues they cause

    Andrew -- I do have a unique solution (and one that differs from what Dan has recommended) for what to do with unsold inventory -- if you are interested, please contact me directly.

    Thanks again to all of you for taking the time to read my column and provide the community with greater insight on the topic.


  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 19, 2010 at 6:45 p.m.

    Ari, sunshine to all ! Meanwhile, it is ad networks that are so horrid or it is ad network 3rd party activity ? Many moons ago before there was such a thing as third party activities, MNI was a very useful tool for many advertisers and agencies. Until there can be a way to block this activity ( yeah, sure), then you are right to expose this abuse.

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