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Going “Blind” with Ad Networks

When I worked at an ad network, many of our publishers wanted to be “blind” – that is, not identified as available inventory in our network. Let me give you an example: Yahoo might give an ad network some of its excess ad inventory to monetize. Yet Yahoo does not want other sales organizations out there telling advertisers, “Oh, I can get you on Yahoo inventory, buy from me instead of that Yahoo sales guy”. Yahoo wants the ad networks money and the network values high-quality, good performing inventory, so the best of both worlds is to be “blind”. The ad network promises not to use Yahoo’s name and Yahoo gives them the inventory on this “blind” basis.

As a product guy, I always respected the desire to be blind, but I always wondered how effective it was out in the field. People have to get paid and a lot of people will do what it takes. I generally imagined there was a fair amount of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” that took place when agencies and network sales guys talked about inventory – “Let’s just say that I can get you a lot of inventory on sites about Yodeling”. It always seemed like there was a lot of potential for miscommunication about what was blind and what was not as well.

Now that I am in a product role as a company that is first party to a lot of inventory, this has tempered my thinking about a lot of network interactions: I don’t trust “being blind” as a panacea for channel conflict. I was already involved in a situation where one network that I gave inventory to on a blind basis told an agency that they had our inventory – we fired them the next day.

One of the amazing things about networks that don’t respect blind status is how the desperate sales guy – who may indeed close that one sale – thinks that it doesn’t get back to the publisher. OF COURSE IT GETS BACK TO THE PUBLISHER. Generally speaking, the agency has no horse in this race, so when the publisher asks why they aren’t getting a buy, the agency invariably tells them, “Network X said I could get your inventory through them”.

I would love to hear Ad Networks perspective on how they make sure that blindness is respected. Similarly, are there publishers out there that have a “system” to make sure that blindness is honored?


3 Responses to “Going “Blind” with Ad Networks”

  1. Jeff Hirsch Says:

    This has been an issue for almost as long as ad networks have been in existence. A publisher has some unsold inventory and wants to SUPPORT its’ direct selling effortss with a “remnant” strategy. Makes sense. The problem, as rightfully pointed out in this blog, is that the strategy is not supported and in fact works completely contrary to its’ intention when a network divulges confidential site information. The answer has always been trust, and I believe that has to be complimented with diligent review of sales material, including site lists that are distributed. That said, in the todays world, with exchange proliferation and verfication company activity, the opportunity for channel conflict, has been significantly increased. Exchanges and RTB promise a higher price for bidded inventory and with that comes site disclosure, like it or not. With rates below direct sold rates, does this not create an exaggerated, non controllable situation?

  2. Jeremy Says:

    As an owner of premium inventory; it is incumbent on the publisher to differentiate the value of their premium placements over the ones sold to networks. If you don’t want people touting that they have your remnant inventory; you shouldn’t be selling it to them.

    Whether it is stated directly to agency, indirectly, or not at all; media buyers generally know where there ads are running. Ad verification companies like Double Verify peel back the veil. If you continually lose deals to networks who buy your remnant inventory; you have a sales problem not channel conflict.

  3. Jeremy Straight Says:

    At SpotXchange, we always let a publisher run blind on our exchange because we respect their ability to maintain control of their inventory. We also let our publishers set minimum price floors in our exchange, so they have added control over their inventory. This eliminates any discrepancies that may result from having a direct sales team and using an exchange for unsold/unguaranteed inventory. The publisher’s salesperson can be confident that even though an advertiser may have access to their inventory through an exchange, the floors can be set at, or comparable to the rate card.

    However, running blind will limit the publisher’s ability to take advantage of some campaigns that require advertiser approval, which generally have higher paying CPMs. The best thing a publisher can do when working with an exchange, is set minimum floors that don’t dilute their rate card and allow transparency of their inventory in the exchange. It will help them maximize their inventory in the exchange, without harming the value of their inventory with direct advertiser relationships.