Ad serving tools
Once ad space has been sold by a publisher to an advertiser, either directly or through an intermediary, both parties need to ensure that the correct ad actually appears (i.e. is served) onto the publisher website space at the right place at the right time. This step is undertaken by the ad serving tools.
The advertiser creates advertisements and uploads them onto an advertiser-side ad server. The publisher enters the campaign terms of the ad (location, price and targeting criteria) into a publisher-side ad server. When a web page is visited by a user, the publisher-side ad server - which records the ad impression generated by the user's visit of the website and determines, in what is called the ad arbitration process, which advertiser to call - enters into communication with the advertiser-side ad server, which then chooses the appropriate ad to deliver on the web page. The relationship between the two servers also enables the advertiser to obtain information relating to the user's online behaviour in the context of the placed ad, via browser cookie technology23.
Several companies offer tools (software) that provide this ad serving functionality for advertisers or for publishers, or for both. These tools can be hosted or non-hosted solutions. Hosted solutions are based on tools granting online access to the main software physically residing on servers owned and managed by the software provider. This is the case of DoubleClick's tools accessing the overall (DART) infrastructure residing on DoubleClick's servers24. Software providers may provide "non-hosted" versions of their tools, as is the case of DoubleClick's non-hosted version of DFP called DE, which runs on publishers' servers. Intermediaries (e.g. ad networks) may provide routing services to customers adopting non-hosted solutions.
These tools enable the publishers to manage their inventory (i.e. choose the ad to place on the ad space) as well as to monitor the financial performance of the ad space sold. Publishers can either build their own in-house technology to serve ads on their sites (e.g. Yahoo!, cNet, Microsoft, AOL, Auféminin/Zanox, WPP, Seat or Disney) or purchase "publisher ad serving tools" from third parties. Ad networks (e.g. ad pepper, advertising.com, TradeDoubler) have also developed their own ad serving tools and use them to serve ads for their clients. Ad serving tools also allow advertisers to find the right ads to be served to the appropriate web pages, as well as to monitor the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns.
In more detail, the steps leading to an ad being served on a specific web page visited by a user are as follows: when a user visits an Internet page, the publisher's content server delivers the content page with the ad tag (the ad tag is a code contained on the page that makes a program call to the ad server). Then, the ad tag calls the publisher ad server or an ad network's server, following which the publisher ad server enters into communication with the advertiser ad server selected through an ad arbitration algorithm, the parameters of which are determined by the publisher. Subsequently, the advertiser ad server delivers (serves) the ad onto the web page and the user sees the relevant ad on the web page. All these operations usually take less than a second.
DoubleClick's ad serving tools are (a) DART For Publishers, its hosted product for publishers (hereafter DFP); (b) DART For Enterprises, its non-hosted product (hereafter, DE) and (c) DART For Advertisers, its hosted product for advertisers (hereafter, DFA).