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The Strategic Role of Ad Servers, at the Centre of Advertising Industry

Posted on the 11 October 2013 by Smartadblog @SmartAdServerEN

Cyrille Geffray, Smart AdServer’s MD, was recently interviewed by the French Ad-Exchange.fr. Please find below the the translation into English of this interesting conversation.

You’ve been on the ad server market since 2001. It doesn’t seem like anything particularly new is happening. Are ad servers now being considered quite useful?

In terms of hosting large quantities of banners, not a lot has changed since 2001. Nowadays you can even find free solutions on the ad serving market. Nevertheless, at Smart AdServer we collaborate with media companies that are becoming increasingly demanding, in terms of broadcasting quality, services and support. They’re also asking a lot more in terms of innovation, mainly so that it can all be adapted to the new ways the Internet is being used and to newer technologies like responsive design and big data.

But the market is still quite dynamic. We are seeing an increase in key players specializing in video or mobile advertising, for example. Unfortunately, these specialist companies will need to offer a more general service if they want to survive, which may be difficult given the technological and commercial investments that are involved.

In summary, Facebook’s purchase of Atlas demonstrates the strategic role of ad serving, at the very heart of the ecosystem. Our field is rapidly evolving, with ad servers becoming integrated platforms that respond to various needs, one of which is real time advertising.

By acquiring DoubleClick, Google took a dominant position on the market. How do you manage to differentiate yourselves?

There’s no doubt that Google is the key player in various sectors of the online display market. In countries such as France or Spain, or in Eastern Europe or South America, Google is still a challenger. The same applies for the mobile market, for example, where Smart AdServer is the European leader.

Put simply, this procurement has strengthened our position. Ever since the beginning, Smart AdServer has always been proud of its partner-like approach, ensuring a very high level of service. Our clients will gladly tell you how our research and development and our daily support strengthens their business. This is an unfamiliar approach for companies like Google that still consider ad serving as a means to an end and not as an end in itself.

Attribution is at the heart of all online marketing issues, in line with the idea of understanding and optimising the client experience. DoubleClick For Advertiser (DFA) integrates search and display. What are your thoughts on this?

It’s very current. The Google search engine/DFA has a particular advantage given the monopoly Google has on this particular channel. Some time ago, we integrated a multichannel tracking solution which allows us to analyse the search conversion/display/performance process. Although this subject has been discussed at length, the market still hasn’t defined a standard and ‘last click’ remains the main transaction model. In terms of optimisation, analysis and decision making, advertisers have understood that they need to go that one step further and use these kinds of tools if they want to take charge of their multichannel strategy.

You recently collaborated with the German publisher Axel Springer to enable them to offer their inventory in RTB. What developments have been set up?

By means of Smart AdServer RTB+, Axel Springer was able to choose which category of inventory to make visible to RTB buyers. The group pilots its block lists and we provide it with a detailed report on the auction results. As this RTB solution is completely integrated in Smart AdServer, Axel Springer has the possibility of having its direct campaigns, already hosted with us, compete with RTB partners, for each available impression. For the time being, they are pitting real time purchases against performance-driven sales (unsecured campaigns which are already optimized according to the eCPM by the algorithms of Smart AdServer). Ultimately, the goal is to extend real time purchases to the rest of the inventory.

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How do your publisher clients incorporate the RTB component in the management of their advertising inventories?

Most of our major publisher clients already collaborate with one or several SSPs for their unsold inventories. It is primarily a means of monetizing third class inventories and generating additional income. But their expectations go much further. They all see the long-term benefit of real time advertising, including for quality inventories and several publishers are already working on incorporating RTB in all their offers. European publishers want to keep control and transparency of prices. Many of them are afraid of giving too much power to an intermediary, thereby losing a major portion of their advertising revenue. Eventually, we think most of our clients will internalize the RTB component.

RTB is often set against Premium. Shouldn’t one rather talk of automated purchase and sale?

Absolutely. RTB is solely a means of automating an advertising transaction. In its ideal version, it’s the perfect solution for providing liquidity and transparency to the online advertising market. By giving publishers the possibility of making premium inventories visible in RTB, we offer them a complete view of the market price and hence an opportunity to identify new business opportunities for these inventories.

DSP, SSP, DMP, Dynamic Banners, are these new growth opportunities?

Over the past few years, the digital advertising market has seen the emergence of a large number of technological players. Everyone agrees that this ecosystem needs consolidating. On our side, we expect this consolidation to be done by the ad serving players who have a key position in the value chain, due to their role in distribution.

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Measuring visible impressions, is that the future?

Indeed, this standard will certainly be applied alongside the standard impression measurement. We believe, however, that the two measurements will coexist.

Are DMPs more of a topic of conversation for publishers or advertisers? Where do you place yourselves?

Advertisers and publishers have got two contrasting approaches. I think advertisers and, more specifically agencies, are a step ahead. They’ve already integrated data management technologies. Publishers have noticed how far behind they were and now appreciate the value of the data available to them, so they’re trying to structure what they offer and protect themselves. Some are getting ready whilst others are still looking for the ideal choice. It’s a market that is still very much expanding.

From our side, we’re already collecting data for our clients and we have several requests to strengthen this part of what we offer. This involves, amongst other things, the integration of DMPs we need to work with. Not only that, but we’ve also deployed big data technologies at the heart of Smart AdServer that will allow us to integrate more functionality in terms of data exploitation. These are sensitive subjects and we retain our position as a technology provider.

What about video and mobile inventories? Are they also using ad exchanges?

These are two very different markets: video inventories are still emerging and are quite costly. The market needs liquid assets and we’re actually seeing key players who are adding a video option for advertisers. They look more like ad networks at the moment. Mobile inventories are already quite significant and almost savage classic inventory displays. However, ‘classic’ media budgets haven’t followed the users and trading desks have a serious role to play. We, for example, are planning to connect these lists to real time buyers and this will soon be brought across to the mobile domain. Today, we’re taking a multiplatform stance.

Do you have one question you had hoped I would ask?

How can Smart AdServer succeed opposite key players such as Google, who are much bigger, with many more engineers?

We really focus on flexibility, which has served us well up until now. Smart AdServer is a multi-local key player. We work alongside our clients, supporting them on a daily basis and remaining very adaptable in our developments in order to respond to their needs. In many cases, proximity to clients wins over the number of engineers, otherwise Smart AdServer wouldn’t have lasted long.

In addition, over the last few years we have implemented a very efficient R&D platform with very sharp organisation and teams. The Smart factory software is clearly an asset. The most important thing for us is to serve our clients and not to work for our own interests. At the moment, we are the only international player providing a solely technological service.

What is your approach in terms of mobile tracking? Are you working towards creating a market standard?

Creating a market standard is obviously a key element for the development of mobile tracking, particularly in terms of RTB. We’re currently offering tracking solutions that work within the same environment, web to web and app to app. These solutions take into account the limitations that currently exist in the market. Advertisers who use our platform benefit from the Smart publisher’s market cover, given that there is no redirection dormancy when their campaign is broadcast on a Smart publisher.

The current solution gives us satisfactory results, but our R&D team are investigating different leads to find a high-performing solution that is notably able to integrate fingerprinting or local storage. We haven’t found the Holy Grail yet, but we’re working on it!


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