Over the last few months some vertical ad networks have been the talk of the industry press and in conferences. Some have even started doing the sales rounds to Media planners and advertisers. Some are in embryonic stages and planning to launch.
The one trend which is healthy for the Ad networks category is the onset of vertical ad networks in India. Vertical ad networks have been around Internationally for 2-3 years now ( when the Horizontals were arriving in India).
The only thing “really new” about Vertical Networks is the attention they are starting to get in India.
Vertical ad networks are online advertising networks that have a particular content focus. They aggregate a collection of sites together that have an affinity with one another. This provides advertisers meaningful reach in Long tail and Middle tail publishers - without the uncertainty of a vast collection of unknown and dissimilar sites ( as in the case of Horizontals). They also give the advertiser the comfort of context as well as target. In some cases even 100% site transparency.
The horizontals can argue they can deliver the same with their “Channels” but it’s never the same for the advertiser.
The appeal of a vertical ad network is first and foremost its focus. If I'm a Laptop brand advertiser, regardless of whether I know exactly which site my ads are running on, I can reach my audience if I buy on a Technology Vertical Ad network.
A vertical network will go deep into a certain domain. For eg Technology network will have special focus on Linux , Enterprise Security websites , Networking , BPO , Digital marketing and so on .
Agreed the current audience volume will be low in India for such channels . But at the same time this Network will still have more audiences then an independent Linux only publisher or Linux blog.
So for IBM or Sun Microsystems looking to promote infront of the Linux community in India - it makes sense. International advertisers would be able to target Indian CTOs , CIOs and System Administrators through such a network as well.
Indian Ad network scenario :
Over the last two years , Horizontal ad networks have worked hard in setting up the scene for the ad network marketplace in India. Currently ad networks get about 5-6% of online ad spends in India ( around Rs 30 crores) , whereas the average in US and UK markets varies between 11%- 15% of the total online ad spends( this doesn’t include Google).
In the UK ad networks get 25% of the total online display advertising pie. UK has 28 reputable ad networks and many smaller ones and growing. US has more than 50 reputable top league networks and 200+ others and growing.
Clearly there is some catching up to do for Ad networks ( both Horizontals and Verticals) in India , to get closer to the global ad spend %ages.
The bet verticals are making in their business plans is that they work in growing the ad network marketplace and ad networks would reach closer to these %ages ( 11-15%) in the next 2-3 years in India and Verticals will play a big role in closing this gap from the current 5-6%. ( Keep in mind the industy should be closer to Rs 1500 crores by then. Making the ad network genre alone worth around Rs 150-200 crores – which is 1/3rd the size of the current 08-09 industry !!! ).
It’s a similar bet the horizontals made 2 years back – when in an indirect way their competition was publishers in the Media plan.
Still this potential market size is nothing compared to the ad networks market size in today’s US and UK. We still have only one credible Ad serving company based locally in India for the indian market. Rest want to come and set local shops , but are waiting for the market to grow( But that’s another story).
International Vertical Network trends :
Verticals ad networks and their prominence is growing worldwide with companies powering such networks like Adify being acquired for $300 million by Cox. DoubleClick is set to launch a similar vertical ad network product by end of 2008 along with their eagerly awaited Ad exchange.
Glam.com , Jumpstart , Travel Ad network and many more are other successful examples. All the blog networks are based on the vertical ad network model in a way.
Each vertical network has had its own path to success.
Some Vertical networks in US have actually grown by growing the publisher community itself. It’s a painful job , but they did it.
They have taken the route of establishing close working relationships with Publishers , Agencies and Advertisers.
Some Verticals networks even do ad sales ( including email marketing , offline events sponsorships , mobile marketing) , Ad Network sales , business consulting and even Online marketing for their publishers. This has meant strategic alignment of their business models as well , but they understood that they need to serve a community to reap the “ benefits from the domino effect” . They need to create an ecosystem.
This is surely needed in India if we ever want to grow the publisher base.
How many Horizontals Ad networks have such time and resources for their publishers is anybody’s guess. It’s not their fault. It just doesn’t fit in their business model.
Challenges in the Horizontal Ad network World :
Currently worldwide and in India, there seems to be an ongoing concern related to Horizontal Ad networks : Primarily their lack of transparency, lack of control over the reach and the quality of placements.
One key difference between the new breed of vertical ad networks ( internationally) and the "mass reach" Horizontal networks is that many of the new vertical ad networks do provide 100% transparency and do allow the buyers to choose the sites they want.
The counter argument here could be this is almost like a media buy , but its not. Since its not a placement buy and the network is committing to monetize the publisher’s inventory.
Conclusion : What value do Vertical networks bring ?
From an advertiser perspective – Option to go deeper into finding their target “and” niche audiences.
From a publisher perspective -( especially long and middle tail ) these verticals Networks also make sense , because they have an option to get a good price for their inventories and not go by the Google only defined “ price” of inventory currently in the marketplace – which is their only option in many cases.
From a Horizontal network perspective – The verticals are actually their allies. Not only Verticals are helping in growing the ad network market and publisher base, but there have been tie ups in USA where Horizontal and vertical ad networks have actually partnered together for inventory sales of the vertical inventory on horizontal networks !!
Ad networks and Ad sales houses have established an industry body in UK called the IASH. We will need a similar body in India and work together to grow the market.
After all the vertical networks are not chasing the same coin – “Right” fully earned by Horizontals.