If you follow the things that I write here then you’ll know that I am involved in the technology of the digital advertising industry. A few years ago I would have said that I work for an ad-serving company; at a push I worked for a publisher ad-serving business. Just over a year ago, the ad-serving company that I work for was acquired by Microsoft (as part of their aQuantive purchase) and I have been part of Microsoft Advertising for some time now. Putting the fact that Microsoft is an enormous company to one side, I honestly don’t think I can say that I work for an ad-serving company any more (and I don’t mean because I work for one that now makes Xbox and Word). No, I believe that the term ad-server is out-dated and we should stop using it. Ad-serving is dead (at least for publishers).
There are some that will balk at that statement but stay with me.
Microsoft has some big ambitions in digital advertising, just look at the other acquisitions aside from aQuantive: ScreenTonic, Massive and AdECN, and as part of those ambitions we have been welcomed – quickly – into the Microsoft Advertising family. And to that end we’re included in the marketing events. And that is why today I stood in front of a group of publishers, as part of the Microsoft Advertising Today conference, to declare ‘The ad-server is dead. Long live the ad-server’ just without any robes, royalty or a crown anywhere to be found.
Strictly, my part of the day was entitled, ‘Beyond Ad-Serving’ – which is to say if you’re a publisher you shouldn’t be focusing on just the delivery of the advertising because, well, chances are your system isn’t delivering it. Sure, it’s making all the decisions (and you should be very interested in how your system can handle the different prioritisations required by different campaign types) but it’s passing of the heavy-lifting of delivery to a third-party system (or even to a network who will then pass it on to an advertiser system). Frankly, as we move into an era of networks, exchanges and bidding systems, publishers need to think about much more than the serving part.
Those of you vaguely familiar with the kinds of systems I am talking about will know I’m being overly picky in my use of terminology but I do, genuinely, believe that this is an important point. How does your system handle basic sales order workflow, yield management and business intelligence? These days, a publisher ad-server needs to be great at decision making, great at making those decisions for multiple platforms – preferably while understanding the audience across those platforms – great at forecasting and a great optimiser. Serving the ad? That comes next.
So, ad-serving is dead because the ad-server has matured.
Microsoft have kindly put up a copy of the presentation that I did. You may be surprised to hear that I was encouraged to remove bullet points. Yes, at Microsoft (sadly, the pdf rendering isn’t great but you’ll get the point).
Disclaimer: the views here are my own and are not necessarily the opinions of my employer (who lets me talk about my opinions) nor customers (who I spoke to). You have read the full disclosure, haven’t you?