Content Sites vs. Ad Networks: Why This Fight Isn't Right

Where the Online Publishers Association Study Went Wrong and What's Missing

By Published on .

Russ Fradin
Russ Fradin
Last week's study from the Online Publishers Association said ad networks have no positive impact on branding metrics and suggested that ads on premium content sites are better buys for brands. While picking on ad networks isn't a new practice, what makes this study misleading is that there is no clear and accepted definition for what constitutes "premium" inventory. To take it a step further, is choosing between premium (as the OPA defines it) and ad networks even the right debate to have?

First, the premium distinction in this industry is inconsistent. To us, premium ad inventory is about the quality of the inventory available for a particular brand, not about the top 100 branded site content. In the OPA study, ad networks are defined as "aggregators and sellers of non-premium ad inventory, typically across small- to medium-size third-party sites." However, there seems to be something hypocritical about that definition. OPA sites -- premium content sites -- are the largest contributors of inventory to the ad networks. Like we've said before, almost 85% of the inventory in the top 20 ad networks comes from the ComScore top 100 (source: Adify Market Maps).

It's no surprise that content sites selling their own premium ad inventory garner higher awareness, association, favorability and purchase intent for advertisers. After all, the content sites have the first selection of the ad inventory to sell. It's only after the primary sales teams' contextually targeted campaigns have reserved the highest quality inventory that the remaining unsold inventory becomes available for portals and ad networks to sell.

Premium sites sell inventory to ad networks every day. Whether or not publishers and advertisers define that inventory as "premium" is up to them. Moreover, that definition almost doesn't matter. What's premium to one advertiser might be insignificant to another.

The smartest ad buys marketers can make are when they find the best possible inventory that matches their campaign objectives. It's about finding them where they're engaged and the context is relevant. It's not about whether it can be labeled "premium," and it's not even about ad networks. It's about finding your niche and making it easy for potential customers to find you.

We don't disagree with everything the OPA study says. For instance, it does prove one important aspect of this debate -- site environment matters. Publishers recognize that contextual ad targeting is king, even above audience metrics (demographic, geography, etc.). It's for this reason that publishers often sell their highly relevant content advertising through a direct sales team at a higher CPM and with better impact and performance.

Pitting content sites and ad networks against one another is not the right fight to pick. What matters is what's the best inventory for your brand -- where your advertising will reach the desired audience when they are passionately engaged with the content -- not who sells it to you.

Russ Fradin is co-founder and CEO of Adify.
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