Green Publishers Pursue Network Effect

As the sustainability movement goes mainstream and big advertisers muscle in with green-themed digital campaigns, an inevitable process of audience consolidation is playing out in earth-friendly media circles. Most of it has taken the form of M&A activity, such as Discovery’s purchase of TreeHugger.com earlier this summer, Gaiam.com’s acquisitions of Lime Media and social net Zaadz this month, and just last week, Cleantech’s buyout of InsideGreentech.com.

But a handful of sites are taking a different approach, cobbling together ad networks by partnering with like-minded sites. This month, two publishers operating in very different frequencies of the green spectrum separately tapped ad network enabler Adify to help aggregate their audiences with other similar properties.

The first of these is Matter Network, which launched last week to cover clean technology and environmental topics with a focus on the business and investment community. The other is SustainLane, a user-driven directory of green products and services with more of a consumer slant.

Matter’s network so far includes TerraPass, a supplier of carbon offsets and publisher of a related blog, and its own central property at MatterNetwork.com. In addition to inviting them to join its ad network, the company will partner with publishers to offer services like widget building, search optimization, additional ad products, and even site hosting. The share of ad revenue Matter gets from these relationships will depend on the level of service it provides to site owners.

“We can come in and be a pure ad network,” said Michael Penwarden, co-founder of Matter Network. “That revenue split will be completely different than someone who wants us to take their site to the next level.”

Such additional offerings are needed, he added. “We’re finding a lot of the people who are covering these issues in an intelligent way are not savvy Web publishers.”

In some cases, Penwarden said the network relationship will run both ways. Sites joining Matter’s network that have existing relationships with advertisers will be able to sell excess inventory on other Matter Network sites.

Adify’s other green ad network, for SustainLane, will be geared more toward green lifestyles content, a segment sometimes called LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), as opposed to the investors and business types Matter Network is focused on. SustainLane’s properties include SustainLane.com and The Unsustainables, an animated series that’s distributed to television, mobile devices and the Web.

Adify first began supporting vertical ad networks a year ago, but only officially rolled out its white label ad network solution last April. Its first deployment was for Washington Post’s Newsweek Interactive, which according to Adify has successfully signed big advertisers like Marriott and Lufthansa. In the last four months, another 35 networks have been initiated using its system.

“Advertisers want an audience that’s more and more fragmented; they will not give up control over where their ads are running,” said Joelle Gropper Kaufman, VP of Marketing for Adify.

With regard to the sustainability market, Kaufman said, fragmentation of media only makes sense given the very different constituents served by sites like TreeHugger.com and InsideGreentech.com. “Green as a category is probably going to get too broad,” she said. “The business side… is different from the people who want to buy organic food.”

Green ad networks have been tried before. Back in 2005, GreenAds launched to represent ads on sites like Grist.com, TreeHugger.com, DrWeil.com and EMagazine.com, but it “paused” in 2006 so management could concentrate on another, more lucrative business, that of integrated marketing firm SRB Marketing.

Meanwhile, Adify’s green publisher customers are hoping the green market is ripe enough in 2007 that they can achieve serious reach for advertisers by partnering with the right digital properties.

“At this point it’s a comparatively low rumble,” said Matter Network’s Penwarden. “But if we’ve done our homework, there’s a lot of people who… may not be the most savvy Web publishers, but they’ve got important things to say. That’s where we can help them: by taking their sites and supporting them with an ad network powered by Adify.”

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