Ad Network & Exchange Guide

Top Sellers Have a Say

Spanfeller, Naylor, Horan, McLeod Shed Insights on Dealing With Ad Networks

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Ad Age asked publishers for their points of view on ad networks -- if and how they work with existing networks to sell inventory and why some are launching networks of their own.
Jim Spanfeller
Jim Spanfeller

Ad Age: What do you think of the emphasis the big players have put on networks, platforms and exchanges?

Jim Spanfeller, CEO, Forbes.com: One of the unintended but still very real outcomes of these networks is to drive distance between the advertiser and their funding from the actual creator of the content that motivated readers to come to the internet in the first place. In a world of hard-core arbitrage (which is already happening in the network and exchange space), the endgame for this is a weaker content output, fewer people on the web and less effectiveness for the advertiser.

Ad Age: You recently launched your own network. What are your considerations there?

Mr. Spanfeller: Our network is different on a couple of levels ... and it is these differences that I think make it viable. First off, it is very much centered on the Long Tail. Second, we are very careful to screen these Long Tail sites to make sure they offer clean, well-lit places around a common theme to run marketing messages. And finally, we are doing this in a way to provide the advertiser and their agency with complete ease of use.

Ad Age: How do you address the fear many publishers have that networks will commoditize their inventory?
Peter Naylor
Peter Naylor

Peter Naylor, senior VP-digital media sales, NBC Universal: We do work with ad networks, and it's pretty easy to avoid channel conflict, provided you're doing it right and paying attention. Some publishers have a "set it and forget it" mentality. They think, "I've got unsold inventory; I'll set up a couple nets and fill middle seat just before plane takes off."

But I've got a couple people devoted to managing these networks.

First off, I don't give inventory to the networks against content I truly covet -- whether it's sold or not. Second, we have ad-creative criteria -- we won't take flashing ads or ads that look like fake Windows user interfaces. Third, we make sure every network we work with gives publishers the opportunity to opt in and out of advertisers, and we vigorously scrub that list so as not to cannibalize our own sales force.

I think of an analogy here: It's an Olympic strategy. Publishers need to act like decathletes and be good at lots of sports. One of those is selling; another is [knowing how] not to get preempted by ad networks. The other side of this is: Can we take our brands and do extended networks and create vertical, branded networks that resemble the audience on our sites? We've made a modest investment in Adify and experimented with that in places like iVillage for parenting and health.

Ad Age: Do you worry networks undermine individual publishers' ability to provide display, branding environments or commoditize their inventory?
Pam Horan
Pam Horan

Pam Horan, president, Online Publishers Association: Commoditization of inventory is something that the entire industry should be concerned with. It has an impact on every aspect of the business if inventory isn't appropriately valued. Branded-content sites command a premium.

Publishers will remain focused on demonstrating that value through the contextual environment that serves the advertising message so well. For example, just last week ESPN decided that they wanted to have complete control over their inventory and have discontinued their relationship with the ad networks. I wouldn't be surprised if more followed.

On the flip side, we have many of our members that continue to participate in ad networks with success. Those that are working with ad networks continue to evaluate those relationships to ensure that they're producing appropriately.

Ad Age: What do you think of the emphasis the big players have put on networks, platforms and exchanges?
Gordon McLeod
Gordon McLeod

Gordon McLeod, president, The Wall Street Journal Digital Network: Since the portals already have plenty of ad inventory, their recent acquisitions also seem like an effort to get more user data with which to deliver targeted, performance-driven campaigns.

As a premium, original-content publisher, we believe that while user data are important, world-class brands like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN and many others will continue to matter to marketers that care about quality audiences and positive brand associations.
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