I sat down with Netmining chief Chris Hansen the other day, and I began our conversation by asking him a few questions I seem to be asking most people these days: What are you, what do you do,
and what differentiates you from others like you? His answers surprised me. Not because they were complex, cryptic and full of gobbledegook. Just the opposite. He was crystal clear and incredibly
simple in his description. “We’re an ad network,” he said candidly. That impressed me, because it’s one of those things most ad tech players avoid comparing themselves to.
I’m not sure exactly why, but the term “ad network” has become a pejorative. But when you think about it, they were the pioneers who first efficiently organized all those unsold
display ad impressions.
But a few years the term ad network fell into disfavor, and companies doing much the same thing began calling themselves DSPs. Then, when the
term DSP fell into disfavor, they started calling themselves other things, like DMPs or some variation of that.
“Four years ago we wanted to be an ad platform, but
when we went to agencies and told them that they’d say, ‘what’s an ad platform,’” Hansen recalls, adding, “Then we did the dance around DSPs, but we’re not
really a DSP. To us, it’s all semantics. Whether you’re a full-service DSP, or an ad network, or an ad platform, it’s all really the same thing. So we call ourselves an ad network,
because it’s easier to understand.”
One of the reasons I think Hansen and his team feel enough self-assurance to call themselves and ad network is that
they’re owned by a giant agency company, Dentsu, which acquired their parent, Innovation Interactive, and their sister agency, 360i, a couple of years ago. That means Netmining isn’t under
the same kind of pressure to reinvent its identity to keep up with the latest ad tech spin, and can focus on spinning the audiences and algorithms necessary to service its clients, whether they are
other agencies or direct clients.
What’s interesting about how Hansen positions Netmining is how he describes its competitive set. He says his most direct
competitors are Rocket Fuel and Criteo, two companies that clearly do not call themselves ad networks. They use descriptions like programmatic audience-buying optimization firms, etc., and Hansen says
Netmining does those things too.
“It’s rules-based optimization,” says Hansen, adding that it’s being driven by the explosion of data and the
fact that the volume of that data has made it impossible for “lever-pulling by humans.”
“So the approach we are taking is more algorithmic,” he
says, noting that makes Rocket Fuel the most analogous competitor to Netmining.
“I don’t want to be an ad network,” Hansen admits, acknowledging the
old school connotation of it in an era of rocket science spin, but I hear how all these other companies are describing themselves, and it’s the easiest way to cut through the