How to Sell Remnant Ad Inventory

ESPN recently decided to stop selling remnant ad inventory via automated ad networks / exchanges.

"We're heading down a path where it no longer suits our business needs to work with ad networks," said Eric Johnson, executive vp, multimedia sales, ESPN Customer Marketing and Sales. Sources say that ESPN would like to rally support from other publishers behind this move and ultimately tamp down ad networks' growth. Turner's digital ad sales wing is rumored to be considering a similar move, though officials said no decisions are imminent.

The two logical options from there are

  1. set a floor price on house content and show fewer ads to offer a better user experience
  2. look at currently hot stories, key markets in the weeks and months ahead, and market positions where you are close to leading but do not yet dominate and advertise your own products and services
  3. Advertise branded widgets that go on third party networks which help get your brand exposure on those as well. ESPN should have made an official NCAA bracket gadget rather than letting that traffic and branding and traffic go to Google
  4. add interactive features to your own site which increase brand loyalty and reduce content creation costs...which end up making the ad networks a more viable offering for back-fill content
  5. If the ad networks are too cheap buy out inventory on competing sites to further distance yourself from them as the market leader.

All of those strategies allow you to buy market-share in your vertical on the cheap. The more of your market you own the better you will be able to sell ads for. If ESPN was 60% of the sports market Nike would be required to buy ads with them, largely based on ESPN's terms. Part of being remarkable is about creating featured content, but an equally important piece is making sure you are branded as the leading source. There is no better place to market your content and ideas than your own site.

Published: March 28, 2008 by Aaron Wall in contextual advertising publishing & media


March 28, 2008 - 1:19am

I think the large scale battle between relevancy based automation and brand value has produced some nice consequences. This really struck me yesterday when I was reading through an Esquire article on the transformation of Arnold Schwarzenegger as California's Governor (Online here). The article featured several photos of Arnie chomping and smoking away on his beloved stogies, and after a flip to page 196 and the tail of the article, a 1/4 page ad for cigars. It tied in brilliantly with the article and imagery, and at the time I thought, would this add have been so precisely placed 10 years ago or would it have been "lucky" to get on page under the Esquire brand. It'll be interesting to watch how the big brands start pulling ad love back their way.

March 28, 2008 - 3:32am

I look at this issue from the standpoint of a Web publisher. Protecting your brand and developing stronger relationships with advertisers is where you want to be.

If you're not careful, remnant ad inventory can devalue the advertiser relationships that your ad rates depend so much on.

That's true for large premium publishers that distribute their remnant ads (they lose the connection and relationship with advertisers), and for smaller websites that accept the remnant ads (they tend to give away their ad space for pennies and never develop relationships with advertisers directly).

March 28, 2008 - 5:19am

How about CPA? Seems like a great place to do sports-related shopping ads and reviews... Kinda scary for affiliates in those markets, actually!

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