aQuantive Plans to Get Rich

Since DoubleClick and Macromedia jointly introduced their rich media tool, Motif, the industry has been waiting to see how other ad servers would respond. Nine months later, we have part of the answer.

aQuantive CEO Brian McAndrews had told publishers his company plans to build its own rich media advertising tool. At the Avenue A Publisher Summit in Las Vegas two weeks ago, McAndrews reaffirmed his commitment to third-party rich media vendors but added offering a proprietary tool would help aQuantive compete in a shifting rich media marketplace.

“We have hopes to make working with existing rich media suppliers easier,” McAndrews told the audience. “We also feel we need our own solution, given that our main competitor, DoubleClick, came out with one.”

By building their own rich media tools, ad servers make it easier to design and traffic rich media campaigns. In an August 2003 Jupiter Research survey, advertising executives listed “greater labor, production and deployment costs” as one of the key obstacles to using more rich media.

Ad servers can also offer centralized reporting, or the ability to display rich media results alongside other online campaign results. Third-party rich media products generally require advertisers to compile data from various sources to create an overall campaign report.

Despite the efficiencies this solution could create, the news must come as a blow to rich media vendors. Until the announcement, vendors could hope aQuantive would integrate a variety of rich media tools into Atlas DMT rather than build its own competitive solution. Atlas could have put its development effort into APIs to make trafficking and reporting through third-party tools easier and offered the market a real alternative to the Motif model.

Representatives from rich media vendors Eyeblaster, Unicast, PointRoll, and United Virtualities were among the 225 attendees at the show. Eyeblaster’s CEO, Gal Trifon, was present and says he isn’t worried about the announcement.

“We have a very close relationship with aQuantive, and we’ve made progress on making our partnership much stronger,” Trifon said. “I hope that when the time comes, we would be able to support their efforts.”

This news continues a strategy shift for aQuantive. In the past, the company partnered with outside vendors rather than building or buying proprietary tools. In the past few months, aQuantive has purchased GoToast, a leader in search engine marketing (SEM), and NetConversions, a Web site analytics company. Now, in building its own rich media tool, the company seems to solidify a newfound preference for proprietary solutions.

To be honest, I’m a little disappointed with aQuantive’s decision. I was looking forward to seeing Atlas and DoubleClick battle it out with completely different strategies. It would have been a rare, and good, chance for the industry to try two competing approaches and allow the market to choose a winner.

aQuantive’s new strategy is far from a sure thing. In the nine months since DoubleClick launched Motif, the product has found only limited marketplace success. Just four of the top 25 Web properties — eBay, Viacom, AT&T, and Electronic Arts — accept Motif ads. Yahoo, MSN, and AOL do not. This limited distribution has forced Starcom, which in January named Motif its “preferred rich media provider,” to continue running campaigns with Eyeblaster and Unicast.

A DoubleClick spokesperson says Motif is “making good traction,” citing the more than 40 publishers who now accept the ads.

Eyeblaster’s Trifon questioned whether the ad servers can catch up to the rich media vendors and sounded a strongly worded note of caution.

“What Motif proves is that as much as there’s a need for integration between [ad-serving and rich media] systems, the handling of creation, delivery, management, and tracking is a capability of its own,” said Trifon. “To compete with companies that have been dedicated to rich media for years is a hell of a challenge. People don’t understand that well enough until they step into it.”

The rich media battle is about to heat back up. I can’t wait to watch.

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