NetGravity puts emphasis on solutions

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Netgravity wants to be a complete solution for agencies and advertisers, and no longer just a Web ad-server for publishers.

That's why the San Mateo, Calif., company launched a service bureau, called NetGravity AdCenter for Agencies, in January, and integrated its ad-serving software with Microsoft Corp. technology to serve rich-media ads.

Rick Jackson, NetGravity's VP-marketing and business development, also is pushing industry standards, working with MatchLogic to make that company's TrueCount product, which counts ad impressions cached on proxy servers, part of the pending FAST standards. The standards are being established by committees formed at the Future of Advertising Stakeholders summit, hosted by Procter & Gamble Co. last August.

PUBLISHERS RESIST

Right now TrueCount, which is widely accepted by ad agencies, is resisted by many publishers because their server logs show higher traffic figures than TrueCount does, Mr. Jackson says. TrueCount counts ads differently than servers do, accounting for the discrepancy.

It's interesting that many of these publishers are using NetGravity servers, he adds. To create consistent accounting, "We're putting [TrueCount] in the next version of our product so publishers will have the same counts" as their clients, he says.

Some customers, however, wish NetGravity would back off its technology push. "We're re-evaluating NetGravity," says Angela Penny, advertising and sales manager for Salon magazine, an online-only publication based in San Francisco.

Ms. Penny says the problem is that all those neat features are making the program hard to use. "They're very database centered. We need a big staff on our end to deal with it."

LARGE-SITE SUCCESS

Even if Mr. Jackson risks small clients such as Salon, he says the program is moving ahead because of success with larger sites.

"We had 36% of the top 50 publishers, the largest market share by a factor of two," Mr. Jackson says.

These large customers have the staff and resources to support often costly database systems, and need the higher click-throughs promised by rich media, Mr. Jackson says.

"In 1998 we diversified by not only going after publishers," but also after advertisers and merchants "who want to do direct marketing, on-site promotions, cross-sells, even manage advertising on other sites," he says.

Greg Bauer, VP-online advertising with Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch, Los Angeles, represents this new kind of customer.

Mr. Bauer depends on the database-centric approach of NetGravity's software. "Ticketmaster's databases are great for targeting," he says. "We've been pleased with how NetGravity works with that."

Close cooperation with technology providers such as NetGravity will become increasingly important for his site, Mr. Bauer adds.

"Is the business consulting or hardware?" Mr. Bauer asks. "Once the server is installed, there's a lot of time, resources and intellectual property that gets shared" among clients, agencies and third-party ad servers.

SOLVING PROBLEMS

"That's as valuable from a problem-solving standpoint" as the product itself, says Mr. Bauer.

This makes NetGravity's AdCenter for Agencies announcement especially timely for Mr. Bauer. The distinctions between Web-ad servers and Web-ad networks are blurring, as server companies do more consulting and networks become more focused on developing technology product lines.

All this means vendors such as NetGravity will be working even more closely with advertisers, agencies and publishers in the future.

"It's not a piecemeal approach; it's everything you need in one system," Mr. Jackson says.

Copyright February 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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