The Holy Grails Of Digital Advertising

Got Grail?You would think that the digital advertising industry has found religion given all the talk about the legendary “Holy Grail” these days. Enormous change is occurring all at once creating opportunity across the board for publishers, advertisers, ad tech companies, data providers and even the occasional blogger. As a result, the quest is “in-process” as entrepreneurs and corporate desk jockeys, alike, are looking to secure at least a sip from the cup, if not grab the entire Grail for themselves.

An exciting dimension of the Grail quest is the number of Holy Grails currently available. Apparently, Jesus doesn’t drink from one cup in the ad industry – he drinks from a case of them.

As noted by the esteemed, pajama-wearing editors of Wikipedia, “in most versions of the [Grail] legend the hero must prove himself worthy to be in its presence.” Which begs the question – are you worthy? Of course, you are – have another drink – but, you can’t just sit there.

Need a quest? Try these.

Real-Time Bidding At Scale

This site has been bursting with information and opinion on how impression-level, real-time bidding will change digital advertising. No doubt it will. But, let’s be clear. It’s easy enough to pre-set a bid that can be inserted in a real-time auction such as the way a Google AdWords advertisers enters the DoubleClick Ad Exchange auction for Google Content Network display ad impressions.

But, can you and your ad technology do this?

In real-time (under 100ms, probably faster) as an ad impression is served…

  • Understand the impression’s user attributes such as behavioral/demo information. (Does it match your BlueKai or eXelate auto-intender cookie, for example?)
  • Look at contextual and semantic data for the the web page on which the ad is embedded.
  • Pick a creative based on this particular impression’s attributes.
  • Figure out what it’s worth to you to bid on this impression given the first three bullets – including consideration of (hopefully) near real-time conversion data.
  • Return the bid.
  • If you win, serve the creative.
  • Also, whether you win or you don’t, make a note of it in another data pool on historical bid patterns given the impressions attributes for use in later auctions.

That’s part of this Grail quest. The other part is that you’ll need to do this for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of impressions a second. Good luck.

The Digital Back Office

This Holy Grail is critical for the survival of ad agencies and their umbrella holding companies, and is reminiscent of the ad serving conundrum. How can the ad agency extricate itself from current back office systems given the painful complexity, time and investment required to make a change?    It must and that’s the quest – especially as the media world continues to fragment and, at the very least, requires digital agency ad buyers to purchase inventory across multiple supply sources in real-time.

The old back office system says “wait, I need a signed IO and then I need to run approvals over here… you just hang on a day or two. I’ll get back to you.”  The new system needs guaranteed payment for a transaction in the next millisecond.  Some of the exchanges have taken this step out of the mix and are aggregating all billing in the exchange’s back office so the agency gets one bill.  But, the problem is not alleviated since agencies want to buy across many exchanges and directly from publishers and ad networks in order to supercharge their own proprietary buying platforms.

What if the agency media buyer wants to execute a cross-channel audience buy in display, digital out-of-home, digital radio and TV?   Gonna take a while.  Needs to take a second.  This Grail quest is for the nimble.

The Universal Cookie

What if there was one place that all advertisers could look to see if the ad impression that they are about to buy is the same user as the user they targeted the day before from another inventory source with – say – a frequency cap of 7 impressions daily?  Think of the workflow savings!  Can you say “demand-side yield optimization”?

And, what if the user had complete control over this cookie, too, blocking and unblocking any and all advertisers?

Yes, cookie deletion always lurks, but barring an ankle bracelet on all internet users – the universal cookie is a powerful idea.  The waste due to duplication could be drastically reduced and help advertisers drive ROI even higher.  Publishers with valuable impressions would likely see ever higher bids as advertisers are more certain about what they are buying.  It’s a win-win, a win-opoly and a win-asaurus.  And a Holy Grail.

Mobile Marketing

It would be nice to see this Holy Grail reach its much-publicized potential in that I’m really bored with this one and I’d like to stop hearing predictions about its ultimate success.  Never has so much been invested in a Holy Grail with so little impact.

Next year!

Brand Safety

Can your company’s technology virtually assure a brand marketer that their precious laundry detergent brand will never be soiled by a content adjacency nightmare?   And can you do it across thousands of Long Tail and niche content websites?  It can?   Whoa – here come the brand dollars online, if so.

All the brand marketer wants is control of her or his placement wherever it may be.  The “Brand Safety” Holy Grail is a big one and may hold the keys to the huge reach, brand campaigns that web publishers are missing these days.


Another key to unlocking ad spend is proving to marketers that their hard-won budgets are being spent on something positive for their company’s business. Is a campaign providing a positive ROI?

With the advent of digital and regardless of the recent economic slump, marketers are increasingly, if not totally, expected to account for every nickel spent on campaigns.  A tool which will show how a tactic is impacting a final conversion is critical.

Holy Grails breakout in a few cups here…

Attribution Holy Grail #1 – The Display And Search Attribution Tool

  • For the demand-side platform and display ad exchange businesses, Search, the bottom of the purchase funnel (demand fulfillment) needs to be effectively tied to the top of the funnel demand generation of display advertising inventory.

Attribution Holy Grail #2 – The Cross Digital Attribution Tool

  • This Attribution Holy Grail unites the digital toolkit. Follow closely… You’re a marketer and buying Digital TV to drive online where a display ad campaign running across multiple websites is further generating demand with users and offers a clickthrough to a microsite for fulfillment – or generates enough demand that encourages the user to go later to search for fulfillment.  This tool tracks all the tactics that lead to the final conversion and helps the marketer understand where to dial up or down the budget.

Attribution Holy Grail #3 – The Cross Channel Attribution Tool

  • I’m not sure how this one ever gets done barring an implant in the consumer’s brain, but predictive models are being used and refined today that inform the marketer across all marketing channels – whether traditional or digital.  Given the Attribution Grail #2 example, add the marketing tactic of traditional (untrackable) TV and print.  How are these impacting the drive to conversion whether in-store or online? This Grail will always be a best guess unless the robots take over. But, technology and digital will make it more exact than ever before.

There are more Holy Grails out there and I invite you to list them below.  With so many quests out there, it would appear there’s a ton of opportunity for everyone.  And, certainly there is – but these are Holy Grails. They don’t come easily. If they did, they’d be coffee cups.

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  1. Your best piece yet. You getting closer to the digital media holy grail of awesome content and insights. Keep up the good work.

  2. Happy to give anyone further details/presenation on 2 of these grails that TagMan have nailed through our Universal Tag (all tags, conditionally loaded, with logic – within one)

    1)Universal Cookie across all channels you work on (display, email, affiliate, natural search, paid search.

    2) As a result of (1), we now have attribution points #1 and #2 above. I would say that an extra (#2.5?) is Real Time/Dynamic attribution based on conditional loading of tags based on reffer. IE – why give the coupon company full $$ if they were last in the chain? Just dynamically pass them a pre-negotiated % and not show them the rest of the detail, or simply don’t load their tag.

    One other grail…. we’ve removed IT from the process and all tag-implementation can be managed through a drag/drop dash-board at the marketing level! No hard coding – including capturing campaign level data such as basket value.

    Great article – looking forward to more grails below me!

  3. First and foremost, brilliant post. I recently answered a LI question about emerging digital marketing trends, and now I feel like an idiot.

    Secondly, the idea of a “Universal Cookie” is here my friend. The problem has been disparate domains, and the headaches caused by trying to get domains to talk to each other. Not trying to advertise, but we’ve nailed all three attribution grails by understanding the Cookie.

  4. James Curran

    @ the above…

    Yes, but have you been able to attribute to mobile in any of these situations? (just kidding, sorta)

    These holy grails are all tied together, with the only way of executing them all at the moment is through acquisition across the landscape, then seamless integration and clearing privacy hurdles.

    It’s obvious google and adobe would like to be the crusader to offer these and they very well may be able to get a few. I worry about the “seamless integration” part needed to make this useful from end to end though.