A Media-Buying Menu For Online Video

Today, there is an option to address every weight-loss goal, health concern or body type. There are numerous ways to go about understanding whether the South Beach Diet is appropriate for you or whether you should dive headfirst into the cabbage soup diet craze. Similarly, there are numerous options to help brands reach their video marketing goals, but unfortunately there is no simple way to understand the best option for a particular brand.

Every option is going to present itself as the single solution that addresses every marketing need. But to borrow a line from Frank Zappa, “One size does not fit all.” Each channel offering access to video inventory has its own distinct benefits, and marketers must understand how they can benefit from working with different types of partners.

Direct Buy

Publisher-direct relationships are perhaps the oldest and most risk-free method of advertising. Purchasing video inventory directly from a known publisher avoids the uncertainties that pop up in other advertising options, and gives a brand premium content adjacency.

These benefits often come at a premium, but this is often a justified cost of business. TV buyers invest healthy amounts of budget for a 30-second Super Bowl ad because this commercial space is rare and in-demand, and buying premium publisher spots provides similar benefits. Advertisers buy and serve their message around quality content, albeit at a high cost with narrow reach of viewers who will receive the branding experience.

Ad Networks

Whether display, video or mobile-focused, ad networks have struggled with a negative reputation due to a few bad apples. An ad network aggregates inventory from many publishers, to which it delivers campaigns from many advertisers. It is believed that the video ad network is what put video advertising on the upward trajectory following Google’ acquisition of YouTube in 2006.

Collecting video traffic from many publishers provides advertisers with a larger reach and a diverse audience while delivering at an affordable price, thanks to the varied inventory sources. A buffet that serves some steak will always be cheaper than the prime rib dinner at the same restaurant.


But because networks deal with many inventory sources, it can sometimes be difficult to provide the transparency and brand protection of a direct buy.  Advertisers should always ask what degree of visibility they will get into delivery, what type of campaign analytics they will see, and how a network provides brand safety (whether manually or with technology). Better yet, look for a pricing model that ensures you're only paying when consumers actually engage with the ads. This creates an experience that benefits not only the brand, but consumers and publishers as well.

(Full disclosure: VideoHub is an enterprise platform and division of Tremor Video, which also operates a video ad network.)

Ad Exchanges

Right Media launched the first display ad exchange in 2005 when both display campaigns and publisher inventory were plentiful. Video-focused marketers need inventory, but video content is much scarcer, making the video ad exchange less potent compared to display.

An ad exchange is a middleman, marrying advertisers with inventory owners, with most claiming transparency and the ability to average down costs through real-time bidding. In theory, these are attainable goals no matter the medium; in reality, making these claims possible in video is not as trivial as in display. Video ad exchanges will grow in number as the amount of video inventory available for purchase through an exchange rises, but it’s yet to be seen whether the benefits we see in display exchanges translate for video-focused marketers.

Agency Trading Desks

To say that there is controversy around the relatively new concept of trading desks is an understatement.  Trading desks -- separately established divisions under an agency or holding company umbrella -- aggregate inventory from various sources and make it available for purchase by the agency. Quite simply, it’s a private ad network.

Proponents argue that this strategy allows the agency to avoid margin costs that come with working with ad networks, while acquiring inventory in far more efficient fashion. After all, the trading desk is part of the same organization as the buy-side agency, and we expect plants from the same seed to play nicely together (consider how your MacBook syncs nicely with your iPhone).

But trading desks offer little transparency into both the fee structures and the inventory that makes up the desk’s pool. Couple that with the fact that the agent providing the results and the vendor come from the same family, and it’s enough to make any advertiser pause. Some will openly wonder about conflicts of interest. Kickbacks are common, and stories of official mandates for media planners to utilize the trading desk are rampant. No homebuyer wants to work with the same agent working with the owner selling the house.

Results are Everything

A good financial advisor is always going to recommend you diversify your portfolio to protect yourself against market conditions, while still capturing the upside when the market swings in the other direction. Marketers can apply the same advice to buying video ad inventory. Direct publisher buys, ad networks, trading desks and exchanges all bring value to marketers, whether it’s technology, pricing or association with premium content. But all four strategies also come with nuances that must be considered, and understanding how to allocate money across the options is key.

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