If data fragmentation is causing you headaches, you’ve probably considered working with a 4th party ad server. But should you?
Advertisers are constantly seeking ad serving solutions that keep data in one centralized platform, regardless of which vendor serves the ads. But working across multiple platforms causes data fragmentation and disruption to well-established internal processes.
Fourth party ad serving occurs when an advertiser serves 3rd party creative through a different 3rd party ad server. The ad tag serving the creative becomes the 4th party.
The typical ad delivery cycle starts with the 1st party — a web page — and ends with the 3rd party ad server. Note the average round trip server latency for each ad call, which is about 200 milliseconds (ms). Latency is the amount of time it takes most servers to establish a connection to each other before they can share information — in this case, ad creative. In the typical ad delivery cycle, total latency is about 400ms. This diagram shows the standard ad calls that occur along the way, and also includes a 4th party call. Latency becomes an important issue in 4th party ad serving. (More on that in a bit.)
Fourth party ad serving is often labeled as a solution to all of your data fragmentation and internal process woes. Vendors who promote 4th party ad serving tout that you can run their specialized creative formats through your primary ad server, and promise that you can still see performance reporting for these placements through your primary ad server.
It sounds slick, and in theory it is, but you should consider these potential issues before you go down the path of 4th party ad serving.
4th Party Ad Server Issues #1: Reduced Visibility
The 3rd party ad server can see the page, but doesn’t know anything about the creative served by the 4th party. The 4th party ad server knows all about the creative it’s serving, but doesn’t know anything about the page where it’s serving. With rich media, this can cause extremely high default rates. Users end up seeing static backup creative, and you’re left paying for rich media impressions.
4th Party Ad Server Issue #2: Reporting Discrepancies
Adding a 4th ad call to the chain increases total latency, meaning it takes more time for the creative to be delivered to the page. Each ad call in the chain requires a round trip to the next ad server, introducing another 200ms between the time delivery is recorded on the publisher ad server and the time it’s recorded on an advertiser ad server. The extended delay when serving creative through a 4th party causes discrepancies well above the industry standard of 10%, and is a large part of the reason publishers like NYTimes.com and AOL won’t accept 4th party served ad tags.
4th Party Ad Server Issue #3: Data Fragmentation
Though promises of data parity between platforms seem promising, let me be clear: 4th party ad tags are not able to provide reporting metrics back to the 3rd party. In most cases, the 3rd party ad server isn’t even able to track clicks on the 4th party ad tag. Out of the box, the only metric that can be tracked between both platforms is impressions. And the discrepancy isn’t just an issue between the publisher’s ad server and your 3rd party ad server; your 3rd party ad server and your 4th party ad server aren’t going to match up either.
4th Party Ad Server Issue #4: Double-Dipping
At the end of the month, your 3rd party ad server is still going to send a bill your way, even though you pay another vendor to serve your creative. The fine folks in Finance will certainly see some inefficiency there. The added cost is worth serious consideration for any sizable media buy.
In short: It’s just not ideal to serve creative through a 4th party because of these issues.
But many advertisers still need to serve a 3rd party ad tag that provides delivery back to a 4th party. The best solution is to serve 3rd party tags with 4th party tracking pixels. I know, I know… I just told you why you shouldn’t use 4th party ad serving, but there’s a difference between tracking and ad serving. Fourth party ad serving uses the 4th party to serve the full ad creative, whereas 4th party tracking simply fires a pixel to let the 4th party know when impressions and clicks have been delivered by the 3rd party.
Wouldn’t there still be a discrepancy? Technically, yes, but it’s very small compared to what you see when serving creative through a 4th party. The reason is technical in nature, but I’ll give you the short version.
Calls to 4th party tracking pixels are different because pixels are actually just image files, so browsers load them in tandem with other content. Serving 3rd party ad tags that use 4th party tracking does not cause any additional delays to the page load.
With all this hassle why bother?
In short, using 4th party pixels to track delivery across multiple systems reports impression and click data across both ad servers.The Activation team can see when placements launch. Analysts can use the delivery for fulfillment, with access to advanced creative reporting through the 3rd party tags when needed. Finance will be happy because they can reconcile through the primary ad server.
And clients will certainly appreciate that you spent their money wisely.