Guardian column: Open ad marketplace

A marriage proposal for bloggers and advertisers

Jeff Jarvis
Monday April 10, 2006
The Guardian

It is just too difficult today for advertisers to join in the exploding world of blogs, podcasts, citizens’ media, and the mass of niches. It’s hard for them to find the best and most relevant blogs, to know how big they are, and to make sure that they’re trusted. It’s harder still to get to the authors to negotiate rates. Though some blogs are in ad networks, they may not be the ones the marketers want most. And some networks, such as Google’s AdSense, may place ads on blogs that advertisers would rather avoid. Finally, placing the ads is a technical headache for both advertiser and blogger.

Yet I hear advertisers dying to reach customers via influential blogs and I hear bloggers dying to get their money. What to do? I propose an open ad marketplace that would allow advertisers to find the best blogs and bloggers to find the best ad deals. Here’s what I think is needed:

First, advertisers crave metrics. We need an open-source standard for measurement that tallies not just audience and views but other key values of citizens’ media. counts links to a blog as a measure of authority. We can track who starts conversations. Advertisers can buy sites based not just on the audiences’ demographics but also on the authors’. (Want to launch a new teen idol? Buy ads on blogs by teens.) Ad agencies should be able to search site descriptions and traffic data to aggregate the perfect blogs among the 33m out there.

Second, we need an open-source code for placing ads from any advertiser or network. Blogging software should make it easy to include these ad calls, at a blogger’s option. Podcasts and videos, too, need a way to serve and track ads.

Third, we need systems of trust. At the lowest level, advertisers want to make sure that a person, not a spamming robot, created each blog. At a higher level, blog networks, ad agencies or media companies will seek out quality blogs and vet them. If you’re selling the sorts of things found in the front of tabloids, you may be fine with ads appearing anywhere, if you get the clicks. If you are protecting a valued brand, you will want to know and trust the author.

Eventually, we also need an auction system to automate negotiation of rates. I’ve used systems where I set the rates and others where advertisers set them, but I believe we need the means to negotiate to establish the true market value. Even before that exists, though, if advertisers can manually find, measure and vet blogs and place ads on them, I am confident their dollars will flow to this new world. Adman Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo, Publicis Groupe’s thinktank, says that advertisers do want to use citizens’ media “but clients need not only a way to filter the appropriate places but also cost-effective and measurable ways to do so”.

By doing this, we take the friction out of the ad marketplace: every blog is an atom and every ad campaign is a molecule that attracts the best. Thus both advertisers and media gain control and increase their effectiveness and their value. In this post-scarcity world, freed of the limitations of the page and the clock, you could argue that as no end of ad inventory becomes available, rates will only drop. But I also believe that advertisers will pay higher rates for the right sites that perform efficiently for them. Thus quality sites will earn more and advertisers will waste less. That is the value of openness.

Openness has another key virtue: it is the best response to a monopoly. And if media big and small do not challenge Google’s growing hegemony over advertising – not just online but next in print and broadcast – then we will have only ourselves to blame.

There is still a great deal to be tried and learned about effective advertising in a customer-controlled world. I’ve experiments with many ad networks on my blog and it’s clear that advertising in the mass of niches must be highly targeted from the advertisers’ perspective and highly relevant from the customers’. At the end of the day, I’ve made a few thousand dollars from my blog – more than I’ve made from this column, by the way (though don’t tell anyone that I’d do either for free). My teenage son and webmaster earns more from ads on his blog ( than from his allowance. I know more and more bloggers, podcasters, vloggers, et al who are earning a living in our new media. So the greatest benefit of the open ad marketplace I propose is that it will support an even greater explosion of citizens’ media.

· Jeff Jarvis is a media consultant who blogs at