Are All 3rd Party Ad Servers Alike?

by Media Two on March 27, 2008

in Media

Recently our agency reviewed 3rd party ad servers. First of all, there is no question that it is essential for agencies and any advertisers placing any significant online media to use a 3rd party ad server. Online advertising is so packed full of data, that it can quickly become unmanageable and overwhelming without one central location to manage, report and optimize the campaign.

So – question is – are all 3rd party ad servers alike? At the very basic level, YES – all act as the mediator between publisher and advertisers, counting and consolidating counts on impressions, clicks and conversion data. It’s the bells, whistles and “accessories” in today’s ad servers that set them apart from each other.

It had been awhile since I’ve had the chance to “shop” ad serving technologies. It was nice to have a refresher on what was out there in the market. I have tried to organize my thoughts and share them w/ MediaTwo blog readers, so I’ve decided to use the list method – dividing into features that struck me as “must haves”, the extras that have the potential to make the life of a media strategist a little easier, or were just plain advanced and TOO COOL:

Must Haves:

  • Geo-targeting: Both targeting and reporting on your campaign by State, DMA, IP or zip code. This seems to be a pretty standard. The question is – Are marketers using this?
  • Day-Parting/Time Targeting: Always makes me think of the breakfast ads before 10a, the Big Mac ad until 1p and then the images of a steak dinner tantalizing your tastebuds all afternoon. But, it’s not just for restaurants, day-parting can be used in a variety of ways. For example, it can be used find out those peak hours when your target converts and then that data can be used to purchase your media smarter by only running banners during those prime times. Less waste = better ROI.
  • Other targeting: Retargeting, storyboarding, Operating system and language targeting – the list goes on and on….my opinion, the more targeting the better!
  • Video Ad Serving: With video advertising rising faster than a DiGiorno’s pizza – being able to track the video in as many ways as possible is essential.

Make My Life Easier:

  • Real-time trafficing: For those spur of the moment buys that need tags to be in the publisher’s hands and live NOW!
  • Real-time reporting: Doesn’t all agencies check on their campaigns hourly or even more often than that throughout the day? There’s nothing worse than launching a big campaign and waiting until the next day to see results and even worse to find out there were issues that could have been fixed if the stats were updated and available to raise a red flag
  • Integrated Media Planning Tool: Call me cynical, but I haven’t seen a planning tool that eliminates the need for sales reps to pick up the phone and/or email with a million questions. Cheers to a simple planning solution that seamlessly connects to the traffficing interface.
  • Mega Universal Action Tag: A UAT (universal action tag) is helpful enough, but combine that with the intelligence to only fire the pixel and credit the publisher who created the conversion – it’s the online Direct Response marketers equivalent of an Advil. This eliminates conversions being claimed by multiple publishers, which can cause quite a headache when buying on a CPA or CPL.
  • Real-time Automated Optimization: While nothing can or should replace the intuition of an online marketing professional – having a tool that can analyze the data in real-time and weight creative based on ROI goals is nice to have in your arsenal.


  • Dynamic Messaging: Having the message in your creative change based on content, location, etc. With all of the ad clutter out there, what better way to grab your viewer’s attention than with a little dynamics? It sounds like a lot of front end scoping, but results should be worth the effort.
  • Conversion Path Analysis: Being able to quantify and present how a mix of publishers work together within an online media plan to deliver bottom line results, I feel is one of the next big steps in the evolution of online as an advertising medium.
  • Cross-Channel: Feeding in the data from “traditional” marketing efforts (tv, radio, print, DM, etc.) into one platform and analyzing how they are working together to achieving marketing goals would (or should) definitely be a CMO’s dream.
  • Eye-Candy: Agencies should and I think increasing will be expected to load their campaigns post-mortems with charts, graphs and maps to visually demonstrate the effectiveness of your online campaign to the client’s marketing goals. Having these at your fingertips vs. spending time pivoting tables and feeling your way around Office 2007, sounds like a stellar idea to me.
  • The Whole Picture: Does your conversion funnel begin virtually, but then continue into the “real world”? How invaluable would it be to pull that data into your ad server and be able to not only see the whole picture, but to make decisions and optimize based on those metrics?

Just like the rest of the interactive industry, 3rd party ad serving is continually developing and evolving to meet the measurement needs of advertisers. Taking the time out of the hustle and bustle of everyday agency life and getting to peak at what was out there and what was important measurement for other online marketers was a good job “tune-up.”

What was also nice was to affirm that MediaTwo is not only providing clients with the “Must Haves”, but also the “Too Cools”. Every day Media Two is delving deeper into the forward thinking analytics that today’s marketers need to achieve their ROI goals – third party ad serving is just one of the tools that can help along the way.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Tippett January 5, 2011 at 10:16 am

Thanks for the post. I especially appreciated the “TOO COOL” section. We all need a bit of cool. Thanks for sharing the information.


Obaid May 17, 2011 at 1:29 am

Great analysis.

Do you mind sharing the list of 3rd party ad servers you shortlisted?


Parker February 7, 2013 at 3:38 am

Look back this article from 2012, many cool feature is still cool.


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