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So take this scenario. Your company just signed a huge deal with Avenue-A. You’ve just gotten a million dollars to spend for the quarter, it’s the big break you’ve been waiting for! You send your ops guy Marvin to coordinate the details with Avenue-A’s people and open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate. A week later you pull some reports and realize that you haven’t run a single impression yet. You yell out —

   ”Yes sir?”
   ”Why the hell isn’t the Avenue-A deal running?”
   ”Oh, we couldn’t get click-tracking to work yet. I’ve got a ticket into support.”

Sound familiar? How about trying to get behavioral pixels live on a publisher’s page? Enabling age & gender passing on ad-calls for custom optimization? These mundane seemingly simple tasks can take weeks. Why? normal people using complex technical products.

Read this quote from the MSN Games 300×250 ad standards:

(A) Click-through tracking is not available on the following advertising elements:
   • HTML advertising elements that use method=”POST” for form submittal.
   • Rich media elements that use embedded or compiled URL information (Macromedia Flash creatives that do not use the FS command, for example).
   • Third party served HTML (IFrame) campaigns.
(B) Cache-busting is available automatically for pre-approved third party served agencies, others by request only. Exception: Third party served click URLs for hard-coded placements (text links, etc.) are not cache busted. Therefore, MSN click data for hard-coded placements using third party served click URLs may not match click data from the third party agency. Please enter the Cache busting tags; MSN is not responsible for entering these tags.

I can’t be the only one that thinks that this is absolutely ridiculous. How can it possibly take five days to get an ad live? This is a process that should take mere hours! Why should people know the difference between method=”GET” and “POST”? Your average media-buyer probably has a degree in English, your ad-ops guy? History? Philosophy? It shouldn’t be the least bit surprising that these people have so much trouble doing what those of us with technical knowledge may find simple.

By nature what we do is technical, it is called online advertising! Purely from a technical perspective we cant buy or sell inventory without snippets of HTML that enable communication and highly complex adservers to do decisioning and optimization. What makes matters worse is that most ad-impressions involve two adservers, if not many more. The way things work today, these systems can’t talk to each-other directly and all communication must pass through the browser, which only reads HTML, XML, Javascript, Java, etc… more technical things!

Yet, just because adservers can’t communicate without HTML, Javascript and redirects doesn’t mean that users should have to worry about these details. Come on! Think of WordPress or Blogger, both services that have brought web-publishing to the masses. They have abstracted almost all technical aspects of blogging allowing anybody to post their thoughts online — why can’t we do the same in our products? I’m not sure I have a solution right this second, but perhaps we should begin by re-examining what is considered “normal” today. Here’s my list:

  1. Knowledge of HTML is needed to enable clicktracking/li>
  2. 5 days is considered normal and acceptable turnaround time for trafficking third party ads
  3. Passing user data between systems involves knowledge of querystrings
  4. Adservers have vastly different standards, heck, users need to know whether to encode or not
  5. None of the above can be implemented without a “test” to confirm it really works

Most of the above stem from the fact that we have many different platforms, a situation that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Sure, if both the advertiser and the publisher are using one system things are easy — DART has internal redirects, Right Media has linking and I’m sure others have or will invent similar concepts. The problem is, there will always be advertisers and publishers that will work with all three systems — which the way things look today means more redirects, click-tracking and long delays to activate campaigns or setup tags.

So product managers, architects and engineers, I think it’s time to put on your thinking caps to figure out how systems can better work together to make the day to day lives of the people who actually use said systems much easier. A million dollar Avenue-A deal should never hinge on a trafficker editing the HTML of the ad-tags to enable click-tracking.

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  • Cam

    Are you trying to put me out of a job?! ;)