“Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Rob Griffin, executive vice president and global head of digital at Havas Media Group.
I have been in the business since late 1995 and have witnessed the evolution of the third-party ad server, which has run its course.
I remember hard coding ads to fixed search results pages and then extrapolating the largest traffic day of the month to report to the client the amount of “hits” they received. I also remember when one advertiser wanted to “third-party ad serve” its banners, my boss at the time said, “Who does that? No way!”
But fighting the future is futile. Technology’s progress is unstoppable, especially when a problem is being solved.
The whole concept of the third-party ad server centered on standardizing tracking for better accountability and optimization. Everyone counted impressions and clicks differently, so agencies and their clients did not want to rely on publisher provided numbers. Advertisers and agencies also wanted the ability to track post-click activity to prove digital’s value. The third-party ad server became our way to prove ourselves and we have all been handicapped, or maybe handcuffed, by that since.
DoubleClick largely won this race while Atlas bled into irrelevance. Since then, some specialty ad servers have emerged, such as MediaMind for rich media and Vindico for video. But now that Google owns DoubleClick and Facebook owns Atlas, we must consider the implications.
Since Facebook blocks DoubleClick, will Google block Atlas? If that happens, will Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL all need their own ad servers to block their competitors’ ad serving solutions? You could argue that they already do with their various demand-side platforms (DSP) and ad network solutions. Additionally, most of us use a collection of fragmented spot solutions – specialty platforms for social, search, content and retargeting.
Let’s be honest: DSPs would never have existed had the aforementioned ad-serving companies recognized the marketplace’s need and desire to tie buying and tracking directly to the inventory. So a handful of smart individuals started their own companies and changed our business forever, such that in the near future, it will all be managed via terminals (just ask AdFin).
Consider what attribution platforms, data-management platforms (DMPs), viewability and fraud technologies offer, plus the fact that most publishers now have standardized counting, and ask yourself: Is third-party ad serving dead? Do I need it? Has it become irrelevant and only still in play out of habit?
If site analytics with tag management enables retargeting, automated buys and dynamic optimizations, and if the DSP-DMP combo provides attribution, reporting, viewability and fraud technology, then what’s the role of the ad server?
The fraud and viewability platforms like Integral Ad Science, Double Verify, WhiteOps and Forensiq all audit publisher ad delivery, which used to be the purview of ad servers.
Is the ad server now just another tech commodity? Nothing stops the DSPs from rolling out their own formal ad-serving solutions. Most agencies already use platforms like CognitiveMatch to dynamically generate ads anyway, thus reducing the ad server to nothing more than the universal cookie by which I drive my attribution modeling.
Yet, why can’t I do that using another technology that’s not pegged to one publisher? If I use Atlas or DoubleClick as my universal tracking code, I am by default forking over data to Facebook and Google. Plus if each of the big houses has its own ad serving, I still need independent solutions to audit the auditor(s).
So I don’t need the ad server to audit my delivery anymore as I have better solutions. I also don’t need the ad server to deliver the ads anymore as I have better ways to do that, too. Then we have the whole possibility of a cookieless world where companies like Tapad are trying to solve for cross-device tracking. Are the ad servers in this conversation? They aren’t.
So I declare the third-party ad server dead. Or at least, a dead man walking.
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