Are ad networks evil?

Jim Spanfeller’s article on Paid Content about online pricing discipline, advertising vs. direct response, and the evils of ad networks is a good read, but I think it misses the mark.  Here’s a telling quote:

“These metrics drive the conversation and the core objectives of online advertising away from demand creation (which is basically the definition of advertising) to demand fulfillment or, put another way, direct response.”

The flaw in this reasoning is that it assumes that demand creation = display advertising.  In fact, I believe that demand creation on the web is happening mainly through social media and content marketing.  To think that an online display ad is creating demand for a product, no matter how brilliant the creative, is dangerously dated thinking. Online display ads can create awareness or even interest, but demand?  Not so much.

Ed Dunn left a great comment on Jim’s article:

“…Mommy bloggers writing narratives on a product/service is more potent than a banner ad.  Discussions on a social network about an upcoming movie is more potent than a banner ad. The ability to scan content and return contextual referrals is more powerful than a banner ad. The ability to tie a product into a twitter #subject tag at the moment is more powerful than a banner ad”

So, is it a mistake to allow an ad network to pollute your site with low-quality ads and pay you a $0.27 CPM for something you’d sell direct for $27.00 CPM?  Yes, it’s a huge mistake.

However, the bigger mistake is for marketers and agencies to believe this bulk buy strategy actually advances their marketing goals.  It certainly is easier for a media buyer to be the hero when they can deliver massive impressions for little money.  It’s up to us as publishers (especially niche publishers) to offer marketers a smarter solution.

This post was first published on eMedia Vitals.


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