The header bidding tactics dominating the digital media ecosystem today evolved as a way for publishers to maintain control over ad decisioning, an area increasingly controlled by media behemoths like Google and Facebook.
The evolution of these ad decisioning tools, which I’ll address briefly below, highlights an interesting trend that exists within the digital media and advertising industry—specifically, the spread of ad tech disinformation, or the tendency of companies in the ad tech space to perpetuate the idea that publishers and advertisers are fundamentally at odds (thus necessitating intermediary technology partners to facilitate relationships between the two), or, in this particular case, that different companies’ header tags and wrapper solutions can’t—or shouldn’t—be integrated.
But let’s back up for a moment.
Header bidding is essentially a programmatic sell-side tactic that allows publishers to offer inventory to multiple demand sources simultaneously via a multi-level auction that runs in the header of a page before making calls to an ad server. At a high level, header tags allow publishers to control and optimize how their inventory is priced and accessed.
As the header bidding landscape matured, virtually every ad tech company sought to cash in on the shift of power in ad decisioning with their own header tags. Publishers looking to continue to maximize the value of their impressions by exposing them to the greatest demand possible began to stack header tags on top of one another—in some cases using as many as twelve tags per page. This defeated the initial purpose of header tags, increased page latency, degraded the end user experience, and forced vendors to compete with one another in order to have their own tag prioritized over competitors’.
Wrapper tags, the natural evolution of header bidding tactics, were created in an effort to reduce the resources publishers needed to implement and manage multiple header bidding partners. Essentially, wrappers are pieces of code that aggregate multiple header tags, allowing publishers to manage performance across multiple header bidding partners. Beyond aggregating header tags to decrease latency (and once again improve the user experience), wrappers also give publishers controls and metrics to help them manage and optimize across header tags, in order to maximize revenue. Wrapper tags, arguably the natural evolution of header bidding tactics, were created in an effort to reduce the resources publishers need to implement and manage multiple header tags.
Wrappers are designed in such a way as to promote the open integration of multiple supply-side and demand-side partners—but if the conversations we’re having in market are any indication, not all of the tech vendors in our space feel that should be the case.
Whether client-side or server-side, a wrapper is only valuable to publishers if it provides seamless integration with all of the demand sources they want to access. But some tech vendors have adopted an “every wrapper for itself” approach to this technology that has led exchanges and SSP providers to be reluctant (or in some cases even unwilling) to integrate new demand partners. This translates to a lose-lose for publishers looking to expand, rather than decrease, the number of demand partners competing for their impressions simultaneously.
This is shortsighted and not in the best interest of publishers.
Rather than focusing on how all of these technologies will be implemented to help publishers, some ad tech companies – especially those that found themselves behind the curve in implementing header and wrapper solutions – are concentrating on self-preservation, trying to sell products instead of solving problems.
At PubMatic, we value the kind of open digital media environment in which ad tech companies work together, rather than against one another, in order to give both publishers and media buyers what they’re ultimately looking for: successful campaigns, better monetization and ultimately the best consumer experience possible. Contrary to popular belief, wrappers are not intended to provide preferential treatment or pricing to any single vendor; in fact, wrapper tags provide little to no added value unless they are fair, transparent, and interoperable, allowing publishers to reduce latency and achieve their monetization goals.
PubMatic is committed to developing technology that supports an open digital media ecosystem. We can compete aggressively on features, value, monetization, reporting and any number of other fronts, and still cooperate fully and fairly on wrapper integrations, because that is the only way publishers’ interests will be served. That’s why we made our client-side wrapper solution open source this past October as part of our mission to promote industry-wide fairness and transparency. Fortunately, we’re not the only ones invested in that take these values to heart – in fact, AppNexus CEO Brian O’Kelley announced on stage at the recent IAB Annual Leadership Meeting that PubMatic and AppNexus will offer mutual support for server-side header bidding. Expect to hear more shortly from PubMatic and its partners on this front.
As 2017 progresses, we challenge other members of the ad tech ecosystem to think critically about the solutions they’ve brought to market and focus once again on putting our clients—and ultimately, consumers—ahead of narrow self-interest.