Who's Going to Win Ad Tech's Coming 'Stack' Wars?

Different Approaches to Putting the Ad Tech Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again

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We're entering a new phase in the Ad Tech wars. Even as emerging companies lay claim to their pieces in this puzzle, the largest players have made a lot of noise of late about their expanding capabilities: Google is out promoting the integration of AdMeld into its DoubleClick publisher platform; AOL recently announced its new DSP offering, the AdLearn Open Platform, and alluded to forthcoming announcements around soon-to-be-released platform extensions for publishers; Adobe is garnering attention for its Surround Sound system to integrate targeting cross-platform; and Yahoo has re-doubled its efforts to find a new owner for its Right Media Exchange, which will instantly add another potential stack-builder to the mix.

Who else might make a serious run at offering an integrated ad tech stack? And will these stack builders squeeze out the more "independent" ad tech companies?

Ad tech buyers – publishers, marketers and agencies – will dictate the answer to that question. And their signals are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, they all complain about the burden of ad tech complexity – too many different relationships, too much required integration, too many outstretched hands demanding payment for every transaction. At the same time, it's amazing how many publishers and marketers collect ad tech partnerships as though they were coins or stamps. Add to that a publisher's natural wariness of one day being held hostage by one stack-builder, and it's hard to see ad tech buyers forcing massive consolidation.

At the same time, new ad tech companies continue to enter the market, and existing players are getting more active and capable at forming partnerships and alliances. These new players and partnerships can make an already confusing ad tech landscape seem even more perplexing for customers. However, partnerships built around open platforms can make it downright simple for advertisers and publishers to integrate across key elements – such as data management, data acquisition, analytics, audience building, targeted media acquisition, optimization, enhanced notice delivery, and even ad verification.

One case in point is AppNexus Apps. As described on appnexus.com, "No longer do you have to set up API integrations, switch back and forth between UIs during campaign and inventory setups, or export data and manipulate it locally." (Full disclosure: Lotame Solutions was a launch partner within Appnexus Apps.)

So where will this battle between the actual stack-builders and the virtual stack confederacies shake out? Google will continue to be a major force. Too many publishers and marketers are hooked on their tools and media for that not to be the case. And AdMeld now provides Google another hook with key publishers.

That said, Google still lacks a full-featured DMP offering, at a time when publishers are waking up to the critical role a DMP can play for them. And each time Google adds to its stack, it sets off new alarm bells for the buyers who fear being held hostage. It's less clear that any of the other players making moves will emerge as compelling full-stack alternatives serving both the buy and sell sides of the market. Even so, Demand-Side Platforms (and the agency trading desks they power) will continue to integrate additional buy-side tools and features, just as Data Management Platforms are doing for publishers. And even if these integrated offerings don't rise to the level of a comprehensive ad tech stack, they'll bring together a core set of related services (for example, data management, third-party data aggregation, tag management, optimization and analytics for publishers) to simplify ad tech for their customers.

So what's the bottom line? For the foreseeable future, publishers, marketers and agencies will be able to continue to choose from numerous stitched-together (or virtually reconstituted) ad tech Humpty Dumptys. None of these Humptys will be able to knock all of the others off the wall anytime soon.

Adam Lehman is COO and general manager at Lotame.
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