The value of vertical ad networks

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The buzz around vertical ad networks has been big, but are they the right choice? Four experts weigh in on these specialized options and what you should keep in mind.

Scott Schiller
EVP of sales, women's markets, Glam Media

Marketers are learning to maxi­mize the impact of their online ad spend, more carefully manage their overall brand message, and create a palpable shift in consumer behavior from consid­eration to purchase. The wide and deep fragmentation of online publishers is resulting in an enormous opportunity for marketers in the content space, which is counter-intuitive to the huge concentration of ad dollars currently spent on the top 10 digital media proper­ties. Smaller publishers, at the core of a unique network, engage with readers on a much more personal level, significantly amplifying market­ers' opportunity to capture those read­ers' hearts and minds.

The vertical ad network is an ever-evolving concept that aligns itself more and more with this specialized content. For advertisers, this can be a particularly effective platform to reach audiences of influentials. The vertical model allows marketers to laser-focus on very spe­cific demo-targeted media solutions, and, if the network is a carefully curated selection of content, marketers can feel secure in the content of the sites on which their ad will appear. Finally, a net­work is a scalable platform, thus allow­ing marketers the luxury of complete control over the magnitude of reach.

With the burgeoning popularity of ad and content networks, marketers must be cognizant of the fact that network solutions have become commoditized — that is to say, they lack differentiation. However, the best content networks are defined by their commitment to helping develop refined, well-targeted messages with an eye toward always selecting the optimal marketing mix

THE TAKEAWAY
Vertical networks engage a focused, select audience


Chip Beckwith
Director of ad operations, Lime.com

Vertical ad networks have been getting a lot of press over the past year, thanks to news such as Cox's acquisition of Adify. Adding to the buzz are a num­ber of opinion pieces, which range from claims that marketers can now start to reach the long tail, to claims that all the hype around ad networks is a sham.

The truth is, most vertical ad net­works are not trying to emulate the huge, entrenched ad networks we all know and work with. Marketers should not expect the rates, reach or features offered by those large networks when buying on vertical ad networks. However, marketers should expect a definable demographic and focused content areas. Publisher sites that create vertical ad networks want to increase their reach so that they can fulfill larger targeted campaigns. They often offer transparency into the individual sites and can sometimes integrate with their partner sites for specialized sponsorships and promotions.

Today's largest vertical networks have extensive reach and, as such, can begin to compete with the larger networks on rates, ruthless optimization and behav­ioral targeting, among other things. However, most of the smaller networks simply do not have the reach or the scale to compete in that arena. Instead, smaller vertical networks offer access to the hard to reach long tail in specific demographics or defined content areas, usually at higher rates.

What does this mean for direct mar­keters? Vertical ad networks are not an obvious choice for most DM campaigns. When there is a fit in audi­ence, buyers should insist on details. Is demographic data and comparative ranking available from the mainstream audience metrics companies? We have found many buyers who don't understand that a vertical ad network is already a niche audience, and when you try to segment it further, the seg­ments are too small for all but the tiniest campaigns. But, we have seen high-performing campaigns when the fit and size is right.

THE TAKEAWAY
Vertical ad networks can be good if the audience size fits your target


Joelle Gropper Kaufman
VP, marketing & media operations, Adify

Over the past two years, ad networks have proliferated and an entirely new category has emerged — the vertical ad network. Vertical network builders select the most compelling sites serv­ing a specific target audience from hundreds of millions of sites available online. Their vigorous selection pro­cess results in premium inventory and engaged audiences on sites with more efficient rates than top 100 properties.

Vertical ad networks optimize the inef­ficient process of discovering, managing and paying the many unique sites you need to reach your audience where they are actually spending time. With these networks, the sites are carefully select­ed by companies you already know and trust and premium inventory is more efficient because it's not on the top 100 sites. Vertical networks also offer immersive branding opportunities, such as widgets, super rich media and video, which encourage consumer interaction.

However, these brand networks aren't a cure-all. They are a new category in the media plan — after des­tination sites and portals, and before traditional ad networks. They are not performance networks — not CPL or CPA inventory. Because vertical ad net­works are so focused on specific audi­ences and topics, you must make sure they match your specific target, which may be more difficult than it sounds because these networks are abundant. You need to search to find the right ver­tical ad network for your campaign.

There are many ways to find success using vertical ad networks. One way is to use these networks to extend the targeted reach for brand campaigns. To maximize the impact of these cam­paigns, make sure you have engaging, on-target, super-rich creative. Remem­ber, these sites are smaller and the audi­ence is loyal, so to intrigue them, you have to be creative and keep it fresh. Try adding a widget with your content to accompany a campaign.

THE TAKEAWAY
Vertical ad networks with engaging, rich creative maximize campaign returns


Joseph Petrosino
VP of ad sales, Healthline Networks

Online advertising, regardless of the soft economy, is an increasingly important part of a marketer's toolkit. As online audiences become more frag­mented, emerging vertical networks in a variety of key sectors, including healthcare, technology and even specific demographics, are benefiting advertis­ers and publishers alike by providing higher CPMs, targeting an engaged and interested audience, and offering deep technical knowledge and expertise. Fur­thermore, vertical networks can create significant scale without an added burden on sales teams.

These networks represent a huge opportunity for marketers looking beyond the traditional horizontal model. Instead of selling remnant inventory, the specificity of a vertical network allows you to target consumers in real time with ads that focus on what they are interested in at the moment that they are interested. This high-level targeting results in higher clickthroughs.

The ads that are placed are contex­tually target, so the consumer that is looking for specific information is fully engaged with the content on the page and will be more receptive to clicking on a product offering that's relevant to that specific need.

Some vertical ad networks perform this specialized targeting by hand, but another, more accurate, option is technology-based ad networks. These networks essentially know whether or not a specific page is appropriate for the ad and eliminate the risk for human error in ad placement. This is especially useful with networks of highly special­ized information, such as healthcare. Sometimes people don't have the back­ground to know what is an appropriate place for the ad; and this is a problem the automation solves.

As vertical ad networks continue to attract attention, we will likely see a shift from the “send it and forget it” model to one that promises and delivers better targeting, relevance and results.

THE TAKEAWAY
Don't be afraid to get super-specific with ads served through vertical networks

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