Online Ads 101: Ad Networks

Our previous posts about online advertising have covered pay per click and display ads. As discussed in those posts, PPC and display ads are different options in terms of types of ads (PPC means you pay when someone clicks your ad and hopefully makes a purchase, display ads offer general awareness and cost per 1000 or so impressions). This week is about ad networks, which offer a convenient method of getting your ad to a publisher. In other words, it’s less about display and more about the transaction between publisher and advertiser.

What is an ad network? An ad network is a solution to supply-demand in the world of online advertising. Ad Networks act as matchmakers that fill in the gaps for those trying to sell ads and those looking to display ads. So, you sell custom llama hats, and this llama farm is looking for advertisements, you have a 83% compatibility match! (Note: this is not literally how ad networks operate, and probably not how matchmaking works, either).

Ad networks, much like matchmakers, come in all shapes and sizes. For instance, some ad networks work specifically within certain niches (i.e. technology, home improvement, outdoor apparel, that sort of thing). Other, much larger networks are more concerned with “blanket coverage” (or, the leave no stone unturned model). There are also, as you may imagine, different options in terms of pricing and the amount of say you have about where your ad goes. Three common types of ad networks include:

Vertical/Representative: With this type of ad network, you’re allowed full control over what website(s) your ad goes on. You also might even be able to choose the position of your ad on any given website (while this sounds exhausting, it could make all the difference in avoiding unfortunate ad placements).
Blind: This is a riskier model, but they’re usually pretty cheap. As the name suggests, you have NO idea where your ad is going. This type of ad network would work for the light of budget, but not the faint of heart.
Targeted: This type of ad network uses data from a person’s browsing history and makes assumptions (age, sex, location, interests) in order to determine which ads to serve. (This article has more information on targeted ad networks and how they work).

Why would anyone be interested in ad networks?

As with anything, there are some pros and cons to explore. Perhaps the best thing about ad networks is that you don’t have to hustle your ad. It eliminates the whole door to door “Hey, can I put my ad in your window?” element to online advertising, which saves a lot of time and energy (and is great for those who hate doing this sort of sales thing in the first place). Working with an ad network may also get you in touch with businesses you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise (i.e. you’re an actor and the ad network is your agent who helps get your foot in the door with big production companies). You also don’t have to haggle over pricing with a publisher, the ad network does all of that for you.

The biggest con to using an ad network is probably the gamble. While you’re likely to save money by sending your ads to a network, you could also end up paying quite a bit. Another potential issue to watch out for is where your ads are actually going. Like I said before, some networks will let you control where your ad gets displayed, other networks won’t. If you like to have control over that sort of thing, then maybe ad networks aren’t the way to go.

 Examples of Ad Networks:

YouTube Partners: If you’re a YouTube sensation, like Dom Mazzetti or Justin Bieber, you can enable your channel for monetization. This means that your video will display relevant ads “either inside or near the video” who will pay you to display on your video(s). Of course, there are some strict rules about what videos are eligible for monetization (the good news is, if you’ve filmed your cat and there is no background music, you  could be in line to make some money). The amount you can make by becoming a YouTube partner depends on the ads that get displayed (which you don’t have any control over, but hey- money!).



BlogHer: Another real life example of ad networks in action is BlogHer. As the name suggests, this is primarily geared toward women bloggers, but it isn’t a “no boys allowed” situation. How does it work? Well, BlogHer has a vast network of writers (called Influencers) and certain marketers are encouraged to join in and have their products/services/brand talked about (or maybe just featured in some sort of ad. In the description of their services, BlogHer says: “Our Influencers share your brand with their readers- in the context of their lives.” So, someone might approach BlogHer with a new celebrity product launch or a custom video recipe series, and say “Make this popular” (but more eloquent and professional). BlogHer then connects the product or service with different writers in their network, and away they go.



There are hundreds of other ad networks out there, of all sizes, service and variety. Stay tuned next week for a post on Affiliate Ads!

Online Ads: Display Ads

onlineadsdisplayadsSo last week, we discussed PPC (or Pay Per Click) ads. Many networks have these now but the idea is you pay when people click.

But what if you don’t have an online store where people can make a purchase? What if general awareness is what you are after? What if you want the ads you serve up on your site to display depending on what people have been looking at. (Don’t act like you’ve never been freaked out where, after browsing for shoes, you’re on some complete other website and you see an ad for the very shoes you were looking at!)

Display ads started out as banner ads and they were typically wide (you know, like actual banners are). I remember when I too added my first banner ad on top of my Geocities website (if I could remember the URL of my site, I’d so go to the Wayback Machine and get the screenshot but alas, this one will have to do):

If you are also slightly nostalgic for Geocities websites, please visit this lovely blog:

If you are also slightly nostalgic for Geocities websites, please visit this lovely blog:–net-7393

Got to love the Yahoo Geocities display ad!

Now, display ads are much more comprehensive. They can be videos, animations, pictures, etc. and they can be everywhere on a website, from pop ups to sidebar items.

For display ads, you pay a certain amount of money per 1,000 impressions. (I’m over generalizing clearly.) Up until relatively recently, like the newspapers of today, you put your display ad on a website and hoped people saw it/remembered it, as you paid whether they clicked on it or not. So these ads were being served up to a wide variety of people.

Google, however, has changed all this again with a concept called ‘remarketing’. The idea is displaying these ads to people who have already been to your website. (You setup a way to collect cookies from people who have visited your site, creating what Google calls a ‘remarketing list’.) It’s definitely sneaky but you can see where it would be more effective to display an ad to someone who has been to your site than someone who has never heard of you.

Just for fun, I went to and took a screenshot (I am a 33 year old woman):

My Mashable experience includes a 'website in 3 minutes' post (I've been doing research on a blog post about these 'automatic' website builders) and one for Old Navy (I've been looking for some staple clothing items to fill in gaps in my closet).

My Mashable experience includes a ‘website in 3 minutes’ post (I’ve been doing research on a blog post about these ‘automatic’ website builders) and one for Old Navy (I’ve been looking for some staple clothing items to fill in gaps in my closet).

I asked Kassie for fun to screenshot what she sees when she goes to

The takeaway, besides the fact that Kassie is way more intellectual than I seem to be, is that display ads can now be different for different website visitors. And that’s pretty cool.

So display ads are just another way to do online ads. Many of the sites that have them (like Mashable) are quite large (they have pretty detailed specs for ads for example but since they don’t have pricing, I’m guessing you have to have pretty deep pockets to play with them).

Next week, we’ll talk about a solution to this problem of not having, say, multiple ad agencies and your own sales people to sell ads on your website: ad networks.

More on display advertising on Wikipedia (of course) and Google has documentation on remarketing. If you want someone to set this up for you, our friend Colin at Root Deeper Marketing is a Google certified specialist and could totally do it for you.

Online Advertising 101: Pay Per Click Advertising

Back in November, we filmed a Tech Thursday video about advertising online  (when it’s a good idea, as well as a brief sample of the more common types you may encounter). As we started filming, we realized, Hey, there’s kind of a lot to online advertising. Maybe we should give our people more info. Thus, Online Advertising 101 was born. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there about advertising online, so we’re going to spend some time over the course of the next few weeks looking at the different types of online ads (and some best practices).


One of the ad types we discuss in the video is Pay Per Click ads. A pay per click ad is exactly what it sounds like: whenever someone clicks on your ad, you pay the publisher. A common example of PPC ads is Google AdWords (note: we don’t work with Google AdWords, but our friend Colin totally does).

How does it work? Say you’re a business and you want your ad to display on a certain website (also called the publisher). Here’s what you want to do:

1) Create an ad based on whatever you’re offering. For the sake of this exercise, you are a clothing store selling a bright pink woman’s polo shirt. The publisher will probably have some display guidelines (image requirements and size recommendations, allotted character restrictions, etc.), so keep this in mind as you construct your ad. Remember, make it pretty, but not obnoxious- your ad shouldn’t be the inflatable arm waving tube man of the internet. Take a look at your landing page (the page people land on after clicking your ad). Is there a clear call to action here? If not, do some tweaking. Once a person has reached this page, you want to keep him there to follow through with a purchase.

2) Research keywords. With PPC ads, only the people who type in certain keywords (in Google, for instance) will be shown your ad. Think about what words a person searching for your product would use. Keywords are in some ways the keys that unlock your ad, but you do want to choose them wisely. It’s not a “the more, the merrier” situation. Remember, you’re paying each time someone clicks on your ad. The more you specifically target it, the better your chances of turning that click into a sale. In our example, for instance, the word “shirt” is probably a terrible keyword. Thousands of people search for shirts online, but only a small percentage of those people are looking for your shirt. So, how do you know which keywords will work best? There are some free tools out there- if you have a Google AdWords account, for instance, you can use their free Keyword Planner tool.

3) Publish your ad. Again, Google AdWords is a common option in terms of publishing. With AdWords, you set up your campaign for free and indicate your budget (because, let’s face it- money is a finite resource and not all businesses have hundreds of thousands to toss into an advertising campaign). This also keeps your ad from running indefinitely. Of course, Google AdWords isn’t your only option for PPC. If you’re working with a different publisher, there may be a few differences with payment. For instance, flat rate agreements involve the publisher and advertiser agreeing on a set rate of cost per click. There is also bid based pricing, which gets a bit hairier in terms of competition and pricing (it’s based on an auction system, so if you’re a small business trying to keep up with a multi-million dollar company, this isn’t your best bet). You can watch the analytics and see how well your ad is performing (which is always recommended) to determine whether or not PPC is a good investment for you.


The most common PPC (to date). For more information or help with AdWords, can help!

Why choose PPC advertising? One reason is that customers are more likely to not only see your ad, but actually pay attention to it. They are also less likely to be annoyed by it. If I’m in the market for a pink polo shirt and see an ad for that very shirt in my Facebook sidebar, I’d probably be stoked. It’d be as if Facebook read my mind! (Although, I’m slightly convinced that it does this anyway).

Another reason: it’s effective. As a business, you have to spend money to make money. Of course, money is (for most of us) a finite resource, so you want to invest it in the smartest way possible. Rather than tossing out a super expensive ad and crossing your fingers that it’ll somehow stand out from the horrific mosh-pit crowd, PPC allows you to display your product directly to interested people. The odds of people clicking on your ad and, as a result, making a purchase, are theoretically higher (as this article puts it, if you make a $300 sale on a $10 ad, you’ve more than made your money’s worth). As with any ad, the idea is that it will eventually pay for itself.

Next week, stay tuned for Online Advertising 101: Display Ads!


Tech Thursday: When Should You Pay for Online Advertising?

One of the cool parts of marketing online is that, for the most part, it’s free. But sometimes, it does pay to pay for some online advertising. What are the options? Why should you spend money to promote your business on Facebook? We have some answers!

This video is all about how to strategically spend your advertising money online, whether it’s by using Pay Per Click advertising on a site like Google, or through targeted ads on social networks. Remember, the key isn’t to spend the least amount of money- it’s to spend your money in a way that will get the most returns to your business.

And, hopefully after watching this edition of Tech Thursday, you too, will make it rain.

Multicultural Marketing

So some of you may have known that I snuck off to Europe for 10 days in July. I say ‘snuck’ because leaving in the middle of the busiest time of the year with two interns three months before getting married felt very much like sneaking off.

My friend Sarah graduated with her doctorate and, as a present, her parents gave her two round trip tickets to Europe. So getting free airfare and splitting the additional costs of a European trip with a great friend I thought I’d travel well with seemed like a no brainer. So off we went!

Of course, I can’t just be lame and share boring photos of our trip without some kind of takeaways. I will say, I did find being in Brussels, Marseilles, and Amsterdam to be very inspiring in terms of making me look at our work differently.

Fun Takeaway 1: Europeans are a lot less uptight than Americans and therefor can have a lot more fun with their advertising.

In case you have never been to Brussels, there is a tiny statue (maybe two feet tall) as part of a fountain of a little boy being. He is well known and loved in this country and has snuck his way into a lot of advertising. I mean, this kid was peeing, everywhere, from the Coke machine at the airport:

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To the ‘classy’ restaurant serving Belgian beer:

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To advertising the bus route:


Can I picture a universe where any American city would embrace any thing like this so fully? Definitely not. And while this isn’t the only slight blush incident of advertising I saw, it was definitely the most clear example!

Fun Takeaway 2: There is a lot of regional pride that is not only demonstrated verbally or with clothing but beyond.

Maybe it’s because the United States is so geographically spread out but it is very hard to find the regionalism that I have found in visiting Europe. People are very proud of where they are from, beyond mentioning it to strangers when asked.

For example, the official color of Holland is orange and the World Cup was happening during our stay. I have a hard time picturing residences and businesses with, say, a team in the NFL playoffs getting so collectively excited with their decoration:

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If I am wrong with this lack of decorative enthusiasm/geographic pride in the US, please correct me. But I sincerely think it is one thing to wear a cheese hat on game day and a complete other thing to spend hours decorating your home or business for said event. I can also picture some neighbors getting upset about the eyesore of orange flags all over someone’s yard. 

Fun Takeaway 3: They seem to have lots more fun with fonts than we do.

While in America, we judge people for using certain fonts, Europeans seem a lot more whimsical in their use than we do. Maybe because things are older there (businesses and signs included), maybe it’s because Europeans are used to a mixture of cultures/aesthetics and won’t judge a place as harshly based on its use of font.

I mean let’s face it, these fonts (and heck maybe even the pictures that are accompanying them), would not have been approved in the US (and yes, that first picture is of Sarah in front of a very large duty free store at an international airport. In other words, not a mom and pop shop like the ‘streetglide’ sign.

2014-07-16 07.59.24 2014-07-08 04.11.18

If I drove around America cataloging the number of different fonts I saw, I bet it would be less than half the amount I saw in a similar geographic area in Europe.

So I would LOVE other peoples’ opinions about whether I am spot on (or not)! In your travels, have you noticed things related to marketing in other cultures, I’d love to hear them! I don’t travel a ton but I really got a kick out of a lot of this stuff.

Absurdity in Marketing

After a weekend of watching ghastly amounts of television, I was struck by the high percentage of ridiculous commercials I endured. We’ve all seen ridiculous commercials- there’s the kind that has you laughing so hard, you get side stitches, the kind that leaves you bewildered and asking “What was that commercial for, anyway?,” and everything in between. The most absurd commercials seem to come out around the holidays, and of course, the Super Bowl.

I remember when the first Geico gecko commercials came out (the “Stop Calling Me!” phase), and they’re still going strong with hilarious ads. Then there’s the E-Commerce baby, although we haven’t seen him in awhile, and many food related commercials including Snickers and Jack Links beef jerky (the ones with Sasquatch).

Why do companies use humor in advertising? According to this article from The Atlantic, our attention is more likely to be held when we perceive something as either a positive (or negative) experience. Most marketers lean towards the positive experience rather than negative, because they’d rather their audience have a positive association with the brand. Humor not only grabs attention, but holds onto it. That being said, there’s a fine line between hilarious and absurd. It’s a risky marketing strategy, and yet companies still use it.

This is one of my favorite Super Bowl commercials, because it combines my favorite candy with my love for this great song (and quite possibly Meatloaf himself).


When we think something is funny, we’re also more likely to share it with others. Sharing includes word of mouth, social media shares, e-mails to friends and/or co-workers- anything that gets the word out. Ridiculous content gets shared more organically (meaning people find the content worthy of sharing with others with no incentive or push from the company that put out the ad).

Doing something absurd helps your brand stand out. By sticking your neck out and doing something different, besides the “same old,” safe, guaranteed to work advertising routine, in many ways you’re demonstrating not only innovation but passion. By doing something risky, you send the message “I believe in my product, and am willing to take this chance on it.”

This is my favorite Geico commercial to date. They’re still using the “15 minutes” bit, and adding the ridiculousness of Pinocchio being a motivational speaker. Full disclosure, I find this commercial way funnier than is probably appropriate. Even just writing a brief blurb about is enough to send me into a delirious fit of giggling. That being said, I am not insured by Geico.


Risk is a larger factor when it comes to absurdity, or humor in general. First, there’s the risk that your ad isolates certain demographics. Some people may not be as receptive to your attempt at humor, so it’s important to consider your target audience, if no one else. Second, there’s always the chance that, hey, you aren’t as funny as you thought, and people don’t respond well (especially if you go the off-color or risque route). Third, if the attempt at humor seems too forced, it isn’t going to be funny.

Another risk is that people who see your funny/absurd/ridiculous ad will be so distracted by the humor, that they pay very little attention to your product. Humor can distract people from the intended purpose of the ad, and then you’re left with a net-zero situation.

If nothing else, avoid creating an ad that is so over-the-top that people don’t understand what you’re marketing. To emphasize this point, I was going to insert a video of an advertisement that was completely strange, and I can’t even tell you the name of the product. There was an aggressive magician wow-ing an inexplicably enthusiastic crowd, and he had some sort of product that (to me) resembled Airborne. I can’t tell you the name of the product. I can’t even tell you if the ad was for the magician guy or for the Airborne-like tablets he was waving around. I even tried Googling this commercial, but clearly was unsuccessful. Moral of the story: this ad was so absurd that it achieved nothing.

Instead, I decided to insert this delightful Starburst commercial. It a) clearly explains what their product is and why it is of value, and b) has a jaunty and ridiculous tune. Success!

This article from Time magazine explains that while funny ads get a lot of laughs and general appreciation, marketers “should use humor as a supplement — not a replacement” for content in any advertisement.

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