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The Dirty Secret of Small Ad Networks

Brian Tomasette continues to have some nice posts on his blog.  His most recent discusses how it is possible to wire together DFP to work like an ad network technology stack.  In fact, he points out, Collective Media uses it this way. (or used it this way.)

Couple of thoughts:

  1. Love that Brian is willing to put it all out there like this.  Maybe he doesn’t view it this way, but I view this as a pretty good knock on Collective Media (more on that in a second).  When I was an AOL employee, I tried to be pretty restrained in bashing competitors (although I am sure some would disagree).  It is very tough for Brian to be a sales guy at AOL and make fun of Collective.  But telling the truth is, at some level, never wrong…. it is just not PC.  And really interesting!
  2. Lot’s of ad networks are doing this.  I mean a lot.  If you and I started an ad network tomorrow, we would probably do this.  If Brian started a network tomorrow, he would do this.  Great optimization only comes if you have the liquidity to have things to optimize off of.  So the focus of every small network is signing up publishers and advertisers.  It is rarely the algorithm.  The result is that people get just enough technology to get by.  Essentially, you fix your technology costs as a percentage of revenue when you use this.  It isn’t necessarily great tech, but it would take a few people a bit of time to do better.  Most people say, “why bother?”  One of the main reasons that DMX was shut down by Right Media, in my opinion, is that people were simply using it to run tiny ad networks and, given that most of the inventory was just more frequency from the same publishers and more CPA ads from the same advertisers, they were not adding a lot of value.  This is the “not premium” that Yahoo was complaining about.
  3. The advent of exchanges has made this even more popular.  Now we don’t need to front the inventory to run a tiny ad network and we barely need to optimize to go out and sell retargeting.  All you need is an account on DoubleClick or Right Media’s exchange and you can start selling network services.  But all this inventory is the same!  Zero value has been added, it is just more sales people selling the same inventory.  And CPA advertisers don’t particularly care, although as they allow varying frequencies of inventory to be inundated with tiny advertisers, they lower the eCPA for the big guys, potentially hamstringing campaigns.  This is why the really big guys are a little careful about this stuff.

When a new network calls you, do some diligence.  Take their tags.  Look at ’em.  Are they Right Media tags with a cname?  Do a traceroute.  Look at cookies they set.  This isn’t hard and doesn’t take a lot of time.

There are tons of people starting ad networks.  Generally, those people aren’t engineers, they are ad network sales people.  Are they really building something unique or are they cherry picking inventory off of exchanges?

UPDATE: Let us be clear, I mis-characterize Brian as making fun of Collective in this post.  All he actually does is state the fact that at one time they used a third party’s tech stack for optimization technology without rendering any opinion regarding the decision to do that.  As Brian remarks in the comments, he respects Collective Media.

5 Responses to “The Dirty Secret of Small Ad Networks”

  1. Jim Larrison Says:

    Right on target!!! It is really a dangerous trend that the view of many influentials is that the inventory doesn’t matter, it is the best price for the audience.

    I applaud you for your posting and perspective and constant reinforcement of your ideas on this blog. I really think one of the biggest issues with the Network in a Box though inventory exchanges is the lack of differentiation, thus crowding the market with crappy networks that are making more noise than value in the market.

    I understand the confusion and the burden on agencies to find the right partners, it takes time to cut through the garbage.

  2. IPOs Are Back: FriendFinder; The CMO And Display Advertising; Video’s VAST Is Big; Agencies And Specialists In The UK Says:

    […] In a blog post, "Ad Servers Rigged To Be DSPs," Brian Tomasette, director of product sales at, discusses on his personal blog "how it is possible to wire together DFP (DART For Publishers) to work like an ad network technology stack" and adds that ad network, Collective Media, uses DFP in this manner. Read more. (source: Cogmap) […]

  3. Brian T Says:


    I have a lot of respect for Collective Media as well as other DSP’s and my post was not bashing them. I think you misunderstood the meaning of my post. I said I didn’t recommend an agency trying to put together these two Doubleclick services without a DSP platform [like Collective media] because it’s not a formal Doubleclick product to my knowledge and I don’t know what the cost/fee structure would be.

    But, I appreciate you linking my post, and though I disagree with your commentary, i appreciate the link.

  4. brent Says:

    I recognized that your post was different than mine. What was interesting, and what I wanted to highlight, is how common it is to use tech stacks like this to quickly roll your own ad network. Reading your post reminded me of this fact and made me want to talk about it a bit. With respect to your reference to Collective and whether you were respecting or making fun of them, sorry if I mischaracterized your statement, but I like how you are willing to talk about what you see in the industry and name names. When I worked at AOL, I was scared to do too much name naming. Maybe it isn’t bashing to say that Collective used Doubleclick’s optimization. Simply stating the facts. I have to say, though, I wonder how their customers would feel knowing that they are simply using a third party optimization service. It probably makes them seem like they add less value.

    Fun times!

  5. Brian T Says:

    As my post said. It was on their website. They clearly cited DART Adapt and still on their website they talk about their DFP integration.