Time is money with online ad networks
I was reminded that Ben Franklin told us "time is money" when a colleague recently asked me why any advertiser would use an online ad network versus buying directly from a website. While I considered my answer, I realized how timely it was that I had just read Greg Skipper's article "7 things you don't know about ad networks and are afraid to ask" on iMedia Connection.
Working directly with a site publisher offers advantages, the kinds of advantages that help CMOs, CEOs, CROs, COOs, and CFOs all sleep well at night. Prime inventory, great service, transparency, brand safety, and a tailored program to name a few. Since we know time is money, we suddenly realize scale is missing here. To gain scale working with individual site publishers you need lots and lots of time. So much time, in fact, that it would cost you more to do it this way than work with an advertising network.
I know, I know. Ad networks can be a scary play for an advertiser. Do you ever really know all the places your ad went? Are you getting what you paid for? How do you know the inventory you bought isn't cheaper someplace else? Can they really guarantee a safe environment for my brand? The answer to all of these depends on you and asking the right questions to understand what you don't already know about ad networks.
Ad networks are getting better at transparency, and as Skipper points out, "high quality networks stand to gain the most as advertisers get more sophisticated with regards to transparency." The better you are, they better they'll have to be.
Also know that networks cannot afford to be pricey: "If they charge too much, advertisers won't buy; if they charge too little, publishers won't leverage the ad network." While you may not be getting the absolute lowest price ever, consider how much time and effort you save by letting the network give you scale, and realize the ad network is adding value to the process.
Why not just purchase inventory through an exchange? You have to realize that exchanges are the open market bazaar of the internet—simply a place for buyers and sellers to come and trade. The ad network, on the other hand, offers "value in the form of data, technology, and optimization, and then sells that inventory to advetisers."
Like anything in life it all comes down to you: kick the tires and ask all the questions—even the ones you're afraid to ask—before you buy to make sure you understand what you're getting. And know that ad networks wouldn't be in play unless they provided a valuable service to folks every day.