Who Deserves to Serve Rich Media?

Rich media ads are awesome. Art directors love them because they’re able to unleash their creativity. Programmers love rich media ads because they provide technological challenges. Account execs love them because they tend to perform pretty well. And media planners love them for all those reasons, despite the difficulties they can sometimes present in implementation and reporting.

But rich media is in an evolutionary period. At least, the serving of rich media ads is.

Over the last year and a half, we’ve seen new options for serving rich media units and been forced to consider how best to serve those units. Should we continue to work through the technology companies that developed these ad formats, and with whom we’ve been serving the ads, companies such as Unicast, Eyeblaster, PointRoll, and United Virtualities? Or should we go through the third-party ad servers that serve all our other advertising?

It comes down to a philosophical, as well as an economic, decision.

The third-party ad servers, such as DoubleClick (with its Motif product) and Atlas, are doing everything they can to win your rich media business. They have a fairly compelling argument. They offer aggressive CPMs (define) for serving rich media ads, such as page-crossing and expandable ad units. In addition, they provide a consistent set of performance metrics in one interface for all your creative executions. For trafficking and reporting people, this is a huge selling point.

With technology partners, there’s a lot more work involved in executing a campaign. Plus, you must combine performance reports from two different sources. Oh, and then there’s the matter of billing. Going the ad-server route is a great way to consolidate billing.

Technology companies have their own benefits. They’ve spent a lot of time and energy working with the publishers to negotiate adoption and standardization of their platforms. They have a lot of experience implementing rich media and will hold your hand through the process, if needed. In addition, they have in-house creative teams that can help in a pinch. As we’ve heard from one of our own technology partners, “Agencies rarely get their creative to us on time.” (Sometimes, we’re one of those agencies.) If we’re running behind, the technology companies always seem to come through for us. That’s no small benefit.

The technology companies were the ones that inspired us with innovation in the interactive creative space. They’re still working to inspire us. Each is trying to deliver the next great, attention-getting platform.

So far, it doesn’t seem that ad servers getting into the rich media space hurts technology companies. Atlas has only recently become a competitor, however. We’ll have to wait to see how they fare.

Will cutting the technology firms out of the equation result in less innovation? Ad servers have had little incentive to develop new rich media platforms. By choosing to serve all our rich media ads through ad servers rather than through the technology vendors that invented them, are we working against the innovation on which the industry was built?

Is there enough room in the category for both approaches? Perhaps we’re moving into a different part of the evolutionary cycle: The technology companies innovate new platforms that remain proprietary for a period, then the ad servers adopt these new platforms, by which time the technology companies are moving on to the next platform.

Does that sort of cycle provide the technology companies enough financial compensation to continue to innovate? That’s a debate we’re having at my agency. Which side of the equation do you weigh in on? Do you prefer working with the technology companies or the ad servers? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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