Choosing the Right Ad Network

When I wrote about how to choose the right ad network for your campaign six years ago, there were dozens of networks to choose from. Now there are hundreds, and selecting the right partner in this oversaturated space is more overwhelming than ever.

Identifying the differentiating features of each network — the thing that sets them apart from the rest — is a good place to start. Some networks focus on a specific vertical, for instance, while others are known for their prowess with a particular format.

The logical first step in your selection process is to get a handle on what each has to offer. Hearing the networks outline their value proposition is the best way to do this.

What are the most interesting and exciting ad networks today, and what do they believe are their bread and butter in this ultra-competitive environment? I’ll profile some of the top ad networks over the next few weeks, beginning today with Undertone Networks, Tremor Media, Burst Media, and Platform-A.

Undertone Networks

Self-dubbed “The Premium Ad Network,” Undertone prides itself on its top-tier inventory, sourced from big-name publishers like Gannett, Hearst, and News Corp. Undertone didn’t start out as a technology company like many of its peers. Instead, it was born of a media planning and buying business (the company used to manage ad network relationships for a major travel site).

As a result, founder Michael Cassidy says, it “puts a higher value on the media planning aspect, leveraging the buying knowledge and research that goes beyond technology alone.” The network makes a point of sharing this perspective with clients, even offering agencies free seminars on how to select a network, the complexities of the landscape, and the history of ad networks.

Undertone has also set its sights on one format in particular: the home page prestitial, or home page takeover ad. By pairing video and static prestitial formats with synched ads, the company creates a variety of “Homepage Experiences” for its clients while also offering a host of other display ad units.

Tremor Media

In a word, Tremor Media is about video: in-stream, in-banner, overlays, high-definition, widgets, content integration, branded entertainment, viral videos — you name it. Along with this host of iterations — and a mandate to avoid consumer-generated video content — Tremor delivers its expertise on video advertising through a “consultative approach” to using video in campaigns.

The breadth of Tremor’s video offerings allows it to provide more objective recommendations to its clients. Instead of pushing the one or two video formats a typical network might offer, Tremor can more appropriately match client objectives to the right format.

Burst Media

Burst Media has split its efforts between brand and performance marketing through the creation of two distinct networks: Burst Network and Burst Direct. The former offers high-quality sites and precision targeting options, while the latter caters to big-budget and smaller initiatives with action-oriented optimization.

The network’s varied content features more than 400 content channels, which include niche audiences like technophiles, baby boomers, and even those interested in green living. In January, Burst added moms to the list and now offers access to about 150 sites that appeal to this desirable consumer set.

Burst Media is also a great source for industry research, made public through its monthly newsletter Online Insights.


Platform-A was formally created by AOL late last year and is already the largest U.S. online advertising network by reach, according to a published report that cites comScore. That’s largely because this network encompasses AOL-owned sites as well as, a long-time leading ad network. The result is a network superpower that reaches more than 90 percent of the American online audience.

Platform-A is also known for its behavioral targeting services, delivered through AOL-owned Tacoda (acquired by AOL in 2007). Advertisers get a transparent list of sites, reviewed several times a week for offensive content, and access to audiences like “trendy homemakers” and “auto enthusiasts.”

Next week I’ll take a look at some vertical networks, along with other major players, followed by additional tips on how to pick the right network for your needs.

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