Network Update

Good morning, children!

Four months ago we covered the topic of the network buy. At that time we discussed how to buy a network and what to look for. And we considered what makes the network buy so attractive: Networks can aggregate a wide variety of sites from a vast array of categories and allow advertisers to reach all that variety through the ease of a single buy. This saves time and gets the advertiser a decent amount of unduplicated reach in one stop at a vendor.

Something else a network buy can deliver is the opportunity to test, with a single buy, particular site categories and specific sites. And at a lower cost than that incurred by “cherry picking” a unique site on which to run a campaign.

So I’d like to give an update on the differences among some of the more notable networks, how they sell their inventory, and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

So, without further ado, let’s get started.

DoubleClick
The granddaddy of them all, DoubleClick currently reigns supreme as the most famous of the online ad networks. Started in 1996, DoubleClick now boasts over 120 sites in their U.S. network and 750 sites worldwide.

Pros
DoubleClick’s original and probably still most compelling value proposition is that its wealth of technology allows for a lot of different targeting tactics, from domain names to company sizes to operating systems. They have a stable of solid and fairly recognizable online properties that can be targeted in unique ways across the network.

Cons
They’re not as flexible on pricing as they used to be. Run-of-network CPMs are some of the highest in the space. Though I’ve heard rumors that this is changing, negotiating doesn’t seem to be policy. It’s difficult to arrange non-standard ad buys. Also, there’s the whole privacy thing, which is really more of a red herring than anything else.

24/7 Media
The other big kahuna on the island, 24/7 was formed a couple of years ago by the merger of two traditional agency rep firms (Petry Networks and Katz Millennium) and a Netcentric outfit (Interactive Imaginations). Though it is unclear how many sites are within the network versus sites to which they serve ads, 24/7 claims 4,000 sites globally.

Pros
They do seem to have a lot more sites than most. Time and again the category/channel buys have proven to be a cost-effective way to target certain content types. The network has some good sites, and I’ve found the CPMs for their channels to be very reasonable.

Cons
That the pros above are all that distinguishes them. Though as an agency we buy their channels frequently and with good results, there isn’t much else they’ve got to offer. The targeting technology is essentially the same as DoubleClick’s, and there isn’t much advantage to cherry picking sites for purchase on the network. It’s difficult to arrange non-standard ad buys. They do now have a direct email product, but that’s still too new for comment just yet.

Engage’s Adsmart
This network has been through several incarnations. The original Adsmart as owned by Engage a few years ago was a shoddy assemblage of second- and third-tier sites that were not being very aggressively shopped to the marketplace. To overcome this, they bought a much better, more aggressive rep firm, 2Can (which used to be Eisenberg Communications in L.A., Webrep in San Francisco, and one of the founders of Imgis, now called AdForce) and have gotten on buyers’ and planners’ radar.

Pros
Lots and lots of sites in lots and lots of channels. Like all networks, they offer the run-of-network, category, and site-specific buys. But really, the channels are what it’s all about with these guys. Month to month, I find these guys or 24/7 on most plans for a run-of-category buy. The price is right, and the inventory is solid. Also, the staff is professional and knowledgeable.

Cons
Hard to know whom to talk to and just what sites they do represent. Through mergers and acquisitions and the churn of sites being represented, it is difficult for planners and buyers to keep up. Your best bet is to just check the site if you are interested in knowing what’s going on. And again, it’s difficult to arrange non-standard ad buys.

ValueClick and eAds
The ValueClick and eAds networks are a planner’s/buyer’s dream. These are cost-per-click networks that will run your ads a zillion times across a vast array of sites you’ve never heard of in order to deliver a given number of clicks.

Pros
Did I mention “cost per click”? It’s hard not to see the value of paying only for those impressions that result in a response from a viewer.

Cons
Well, I personally don’t see any cons, but some clients do not like the idea of their ads running on sites that no one has ever heard of before. And, truth be told, the total site list isn’t always that great. Though none of them are offensive in the traditional sense, some might take issue with a smaller, op-ed type of site that has made its way into the network.

Burst! Media
The Burst network has been around since the beginning of it all. Started in 1995 by Jarvis Coffin and Bob Hanna, this network now has thousands of small and mid-sized sites in 20 different channels.

Pros
With an excellent collection of niche sites that you might not otherwise be able to buy on, this network allows you to get ads in those hard-to-reach places. I’ve had good luck with them in the past, particularly the technology segment. Good rates and service.

Now there are other outfits out there like Advertising.com, and AdAuction is moving into this space, but all those above are an excellent place to start if you are going to buy networks. You’ll cover 80 percent of the online universe with these. Also, this did not cover rep firms such as L90 or Winstar, which are other great places to look for sites and inventory you might not know is out there.

God speed and good luck!

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