The arrival of Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) may very well signal a better way to access exchange media inventory, but if you are thinking that means doing away with your third party ad server, keep reading.
DSPs have arrived in a big way, and a lot has been written lately about how they will help influence the future of online advertising. After all, DSPs are all about delivering on the promise of how to most effectively and efficiently utilize data, eliminating wasted time and resources to generate better results for your online marketing programs. While the future for DSPs looks promising, it’s important to not lose sight of a fundamental backbone technology piece that will continue to play a critical part in the advancement of DSPs: the third-party ad server.
Third-party ad servers provide the fundamental tools for managing, tracking and reporting on display advertising campaigns. Marketers must be able to monitor all types of campaigns and report on creative and targeting performance in order to fully leverage the demand side technology. Having an additional tool to acquire media and leverage data is great, but that is only part of the solution. A truly viable solution requires a complete display management system.
- Ad servers provide comprehensive tracking, retargeting, optimization and reporting of all media buy types. Whether it’s a CPA affiliate campaign, a CPM buy from a niche site, or a CPC deal with a direct site, ad servers are designed to track and report on all activity across channels. In addition, some ad servers even incorporate tracking of natural search, paid search and email. The vast majority of Demand Side Platforms are specifically designed to mainly track and manage Exchange buys.
- Ad servers de-duplicate conversions across media buys by attributing a conversion event to only one media vendor. Without this type of de-duplication, advertisers end up misinterpreting which suppliers are really driving conversions and, in the case of CPA buys, advertisers can end up paying rev-share fees multiple times for a single conversion.
- Industry consolidation and competition has weeded out all but the most reliable and effective ad servers. You’ll also find that these ad servers can be counted on for 99% up-time, reliability, and IAB and NAI compliance – to name a few. The DSP life cycle, on the other hand, has just started. One can expect a lot of hope, hype and future promise among DSP vendors, but not necessarily proven track records.
- Ad servers have expertise and highly developed tools for creative rendering and tracking. It will be a long time before DSPs can provide things like auto-optimized dynamic messaging, where the best performing combination or iteration of creative variables are systematically determined. Support for Rich Media formats, such as floating, expandable or tandem, are another area where current DSPs are lacking – not to mention Rich Media reporting and publisher acceptance.
- Marketers buying exchange and network inventory don’t always have control over where their ads are displayed. Typically, they have transparency after the fact. Marketers will continue to buy inventory directly from specific sites to ensure targeted reach and appropriate brand exposure. Although DSPs in some cases have partnered with brand safety companies, they are not designed to buy inventory directly from specific sites.
- Third-party ad servers have highly-evolved reports, such as Path to Conversion, Site Overlap and Reach and Frequency reports that allow marketers to fully understand how and when users are interacting with the media. DSPs have barely scratched the surface in terms of their reporting capabilities.
Ad servers have been effectively managing the demand side of display for more than a decade and will continue to be a critical tool in managing display campaigns. It makes sense to assume that the lines between DSPs and third-party ad servers will cross and eventually achieve total integration in the years to come. However, in order to effectively manage the demand side, DSPs will need to build out the functionality which today is only available with a third-party ad server. As the exchange market grows, these ad servers will most likely integrate with exchanges directly or partner with a DSP that does. Until that time, third-party ad servers will continue to fill a critical role in the management of display advertising.