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The Ad Server, 20 Years On

By Matt White, EMEA Managing Director

To think it’s been twenty years since the ad server was invented is mind-boggling. I remember when it was first introduced; it drove a huge change in the world of advertising.

For the first time advertisers could serve ads at an individual and personal level across multiple publishers. The way in which media was bought changed, bringing efficiency and relevancy to the media buying approach and how inventory was packaged, reducing the reams of paperwork between agencies and publishers. Advertisers embraced the emerging online display advertising channel, quickly capitalising on the change and digital opportunity.

So what drove this change? Technology. In 1995, consumers had access to a vast amount of information at their fingertips and were spending increasing amounts of time online. In tandem the volume of ad impressions exploded to millions; breaking the boundaries of traditional media. There was quickly a need for technology to help publishers package audiences and sell them to advertiser. This led to the development of the first ad server by FocaLink Media Services.

Technology quickly enabled advertisers to set parameters for a campaign that dictated which ad appeared where, how frequently and for how long, then reported back on clicks and impressions. It wasn’t a popular idea at first. In an interview with the Internet History Podcast last year, FocaLink Media Services Founder Dave Zinman recalls the head of Saatchi & Saatchi in New York telling him ‘I was kind of hoping this would happen after I retired’ – a popular attitude that proved to be a barrier to getting large-scale buy-in from agencies.

As the Internet gained popularity, and consumers became more confident buying goods online, the shift to tracking and measuring online advertising to the point of conversion emerged. Display advertising was no longer perceived successful based on a click metric. In the height of the dotcom boom, the ecommerce market exploded and, advertisers gained access to a host of data about who they were targeting – such as consumer’s demographic data, as well as previous site visits and interests.

As this continued and publisher websites became increasingly sophisticated, advertising technology offered brands hyper-targeted campaigns and greater insight into how their online campaigns were performing. Being able to see if a click led to a conversion was once exciting, now we’re able to employ a variety of tactics to understand the entire path to conversion and the correlation between every tactic, at each stage of the funnel and how they contribute to campaign ROI – all in real-time.

Technology has changed how consumers interact and consume media. We’re in an era of the always-on consumer; media consumption habits are maturing rapidly, driven primarily by new and emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things.

Today, multi-screening consumers are much more comfortable with the Internet and we see the level of targeting and accountability enter the world of traditional media. With the rapid adoption of programmatic trading, the vast amount of first-party data and the rise of the IoT, the ad server as we know it no longer exists.

As we advertise across more channels from people’s computers and televisions to their wrists and glasses, the ad server is getting smarter to keep up. Change isn’t coming, it’s already here.

This post originally appeared on M&M Global.