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Ad network halo stories

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In our first installment, we tackled the horrors and pitfalls of working with ad networks. But the news on ad networks isn't all bad -- far from it. So here are some of the reasons why buyers turn to ad networks day in and day out for their media needs.


ROI
There are a lot of ways to improve your ROI in a media buy, but one of the best ways to bring home the bacon for less is to use the right ad network, says Guy Schueller, media director for Organic.


"We have used ad networks mostly to add a strong targeting and efficiency layer to digital media plans," Schueller explains. "The numerous targeting options (i.e., reach, behavioral, demographic, geographic, etc.), combined with the lower in-going cost have typically provided strong performance and ROI. This has proven to be valuable in the present climate when clients are demanding more efficiency and better results."


Marrying search with display
Search may get a lot of the glory, and display might get a lot of the ink, but if you ask a seasoned marketer, putting them both together is a big part of most winning campaigns. The trouble is, there aren't that many routes toward marrying search with display that don't go through an ad network. But according to Jose Manuel Montenegro of the Sensis agency, Yahoo typically delivers what he's looking for.


"Yahoo has a great product that allows you to re-target users based on their searches throughout the Yahoo Network, allowing agencies to combine the impact of display advertising with the cost-efficiency of search," Montenegro explains.


That's a pretty effective one-two punch, and it's one that you would only get directly from a publisher if you were willing to take a fraction of the reach and a bigger hit to your budget.


Champagne at beer prices
Publishers cringe at this, but ad networks do give budget-conscious buyers access to the best of the web. Cruise on over to The New York Times, and you'll see it in action. While a premium advertiser might occupy the top slot, the front page is within reach of the little guy, if he's willing to sit at the bottom.


"For agencies and clients with smaller budgets, self-service platforms like AdReady give clients access to premium inventory like The New York Times, Yahoo, and Univision, even with minimal budgets," Montenegro explains.


While that might be bad news for the future of newspapers -- time will tell on that one -- it's certainly good news for smaller advertisers that want to stretch their media dollar into the premium arena. And that's a fact that no buyer should discount when it comes to thinking about ad networks.


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Leveraging other people's assets
In a lot of ways, the internet is the great equalizer, allowing David to compete with Goliath on a daily basis. But sometimes the little guys need backup, and they don't always have the budget, time, or ability to staff up in a hurry.


No problem. A lot of ad networks look a lot like ad agencies (in fact, some are owned by ad agencies), with in-house creative teams that are able to serve their client's custom needs. And in a tough economy, those services can often be bundled with a media buy or, in some cases, provided for free. That's a big deal, according to Keith Wilson, director of display media at The Search Agency, who says that the right ad network can help a small buyer leverage assets that would otherwise be unavailable to him.


"[At times] ad networks have provided gratis creative optimization to increase the effectiveness of the ad for us," Wilson explains. "Not only did we avoid the risk [of making creative], we got to work with their creative group on testing creative techniques to increase [performance]. [In that instance] the network truly operated as a partner, not as a vendor."


Tap into the niche passion centers
Here's a sad fact about the internet if you're an advertiser: Your best audience might be impossible to locate. In fact, your prime audience might be so far under the radar that you don't know it exists.


The reason for this is simple. Online content is all about niche. The more specific the content gets, the better engaged and more passionate the audience tends to be. The trouble is that the audience size might be too small for any advertiser to notice because it doesn't rank on many of the traditional media measures. In those cases -- and there are a lot of those cases -- an ad network is often the only solution.


"Niche networks provide targeted access to audiences and even websites that we may have otherwise not been able to gain access to," says Corey Pilkington, account supervisor at Worktank. "For example, Worktank is currently using an ad network for an online campaign targeting website developers that allows us access to small, niche developer websites that don't even have a sales staff."


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Target in sight
Targeting is a big buzzword in the ad network space. And while much has been written about whether or not targeting technology is all it's cracked up to be, a few things seem certain. First, targeting your ads is better than sending messages blind. Second, targeting is better than it used to be (and getting better all the time). Third, targeting works better when there's more data to go on, and ad networks (especially big ones) have mountains of data to draw on.


That's what we really know about targeting. The rest is, in the parlance of the disclaimers so common in ad copy, a case where individual results may vary. 


But according to Drew Neisser, CEO of Renegade, the results are usually pretty good.


"Ad networks, when properly negotiated, are a great way to build awareness and/or generate the desired response," Neisser says. "Importantly, the better networks offer three ways to target: by demo, by behavior, and by geography. Many, like Yahoo and AOL's [formerly] Platform-A offerings, can offer this high degree of targeting because they have a lot of info on their visitors."


"Of course, that information is where the rubber meets the road. When it comes to geo-targeting, it's hard to see how the computers could get it wrong, because we've gotten pretty good at identifying location based on IP addresses. Likewise, demographics also rely on a lot of hard data. But targeting based on behavior tends to include one part data, one part inference, and one part guesswork. That's not to say that targeting accurate (often it is), but there are -- and likely always will be -- limits on the ability of an algorithm to predict what I'd like to buy tomorrow," he added.


KISS
There's an old acronym that can be applied to just about every industry. KISS, depending on your preferences, can either mean: keep it simple, stupid or keep it short and simple.


Whichever meaning you prefer, it's fair to say that the right ad network can certainly deliver on simplicity. After all, there's a lot of media out there, and Sean Cheyney, VP of marketing and business development for AccuQuote, says that one of the big advantages of using ad networks is that it simplifies the buying process -- something he may not always have the time, budget, or patience to do.


After all, an ad network buy isn't just about price and media. It's also about serving the right ads to the right audience at the right time, and there's a lot to be said for standardizing the ad delivery process.


Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. 



Michael Estrin is freelance writer. He contributes regularly to iMedia, Bankrate.com, and California Lawyer Magazine. But you can also find his byline across the Web (and sometimes in print) at Digiday, Fast...

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