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Fourth Party Ad Serving – Because Third Party Wasn’t Confusing Enough – Third Party Served Reporting
Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in the number of online advertising contracts requesting quarterly billing. Room billing occurs when the advertiser, through their agency, chooses to run an ad from one vendor, say Eyeblaster, but wants the impression reporting and billing to be based on another vendor, such as DoubleClick or Atlas, making it the fourth part
At first I think this sounds crazy, but it really doesn’t get any better the longer you think about it, it gets crazy.
This is done in a number of different ways, basically coming down to one of two methods. For lack of a better term, we can call them front-end and back-end. In the front-end system, the information is fed into the third-party creative script that calls the third-party vendor to register an impression. In the back-end configuration, all registration is done via a back-end call from the third-party provider to the third-party provider, without any exposure to the creative source.
While the front end might be a bit easier for a publisher to manage, neither of these setups is really ideal for a few different reasons.
Let’s start with front-end tracking. This means that there is code in the third-party creative passed to the editor that will initiate the call to the third-party provider. In most cases, this code is obscured and not easily seen when looking at the code. As far as I know, only Eyewonder has an implementation that clearly shows the relative label of rooms. Even Eyewonder doesn’t always seem to use this format, but when they do, it greatly improves the publisher’s ability to establish the relationship and properly track and bill the item. Unfortunately, most other front-end implementations use codes that are not part of the normal reporting process and do not make the relationship clear. Even when that’s the case, front-end tracking has the advantage of locking the relationship between third and fourth and avoiding the creative shift issues that back-end tracking can have.
Back-end tracking achieves the same goal, recording a third to fourth impression, but does it entirely on the back-end. The third party does not build tracking into the creative, but instead uses a system configuration option to create the relationship on their end.
There are two major problems with this approach. First of all, there is no way the editor is trying to establish the relationship between third-party and fourth-party tracking since the creative script doesn’t even have a clue about the details. The second challenge is that sellers can change the relationship on the fly without any notification to the publisher.
There are also general problems with both methods. Since publishers are asked to run an ad from one vendor, but report delivery through another, the publisher needs the relationship to be clearly defined. However, agencies don’t seem to understand this and rarely provide documentation to help clarify it. In fact, agencies often seem to lack understanding of this arrangement they themselves create.
Imagine you have a VISA credit card and one day you get a message from them telling you that you now have to pay your VISA bill to a MasterCard account. However, they don’t tell you what the new account number is. When you ask them what the account number is, they either don’t answer or answer but don’t give you the information, instead they ask you what you mean.
That’s a pretty good metaphor for how notification and implementation of bedroom implementations often work. In fact, that example is not the worst case scenario. In the worst cases, agencies do not specify the relationship before the campaign launch and only inform the publisher weeks or months later disputing the billing.
Imagine that in the VISA/MasterCard example above, they waited until after the fact to notify you and told you that you had been paying your bill incorrectly to the wrong account for months and informed you that you should have made payments to the MasterCard account. , so they still refuse to give you the account number. Again, as confusing a situation as it may seem, it is an accurate picture of the problem facing publishers.
So what is the solution?
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem, there are some decisions to be made and some guidelines to consider so publishers can at least feel like they’ve done their due diligence and prepared.
The first thing publishers should ask themselves is whether they want to accept these terms. Given the above complication, editors may consider holding back, or at least setting some minimum standards for how it should be handled. But the situation is complicated enough that publishers should operate from a position of conditional acceptance on its terms, not necessarily unreserved.
If publishers decide that they accept room terms and do so with some conditions, there are a few things that should be at the top of their list.
Because agencies create the relationships between third-party and fourth-party tracking, publishers should require agencies to make that information available in a simple format. The best case scenario would be for all room tracking to be embedded as a direct call or comment in the third party creative script, similar to the Eyewonder example above. This would have the advantage of being done once during setup and negating the need for follow-up communication. It would also be a permanent solution and even years later the tracking relationship could be investigated. Finally, it would have the advantage of being part of the creative setup, and as new creative resources are tracked, they would have the solution built into them.
If a one-step solution like the one above can’t be achieved, then agencies need to understand that they will need to offer publishers some way to link third-party and fourth-party tracking. A simple spreadsheet would suffice, but this is still not as good a solution as the previous integrated solution, as that information will need to be communicated and managed throughout the life of the campaign and for some time afterwards.
Not only do agencies have to provide the key to establishing relationships, but they must do so in a timely manner. How do you define timely? Before the placement goes live, as disclosing the relationship afterwards can severely limit the ability to pace and control delivery.
Third-party tracking and billing of online advertising is complicated and requires the industry to address that complication or resign itself to living with it. Ignoring the problems won’t make them go away, and while the upcoming IAB impression exchange may solve some problems, it certainly won’t be a silver bullet for bedroom ad tracking.
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