What is Ad Operations, Anyway?


Ad operations is an area within the world of digital advertising that most people probably don’t know too much about. How complicated could it be, right? It’s how digital advertisements… operate. It’s in the title for goodness sake!

Before consumers’ attention was fragmented between desktop, mobile, and tablets as it is today, there were less moving parts involved in the end-to-end, brand-to-consumer advertising process. We now live in a multi-screen digital world, and publishers and advertisers have turned to programmatic buying and selling technology to capitalize on this fragmentation.

While more screens offer new opportunities, connecting with target audiences across multiple devices comes with its own set of challenges. Struggling to keep pace with consumers’ viewing patterns, pubs and advertisers have turned to 3rd-party ad tech vendors to fill in the gaps created by the changes in viewership behavior.

Here’s the problem — publishers and advertisers measure success with different metrics. Publishers look to optimize ad revenue while advertisers look to get the most bang for their buck in terms of reach and effectiveness. This difference has created a quasi civil war between publishers and advertisers with an ambiguous sea of ad tech vendors separating the two. When each “player” is left to execute their own objectives, providing a positive user experience sometimes takes a back seat. If you don’t agree with that, the meteoric rise of ad blockers speaks for itself.

The role of Ad Ops has never been more important because there have never been so many moving parts to the brand-to-consumer advertising funnel. Ad Ops has a great opportunity to empower decision makers by providing some clarity to the currently-murky ad tech ecosystem .

Our main responsibility is to troubleshoot problems and identify inefficiencies in our organization’s programmatic advertising process. Once the root cause of the problem is identified, we are tasked with disseminating our findings to the appropriate internal departments that can start building solutions.

At Virool, instead of playing the blame game and pointing fingers, we uncover certain inefficiencies by asking the question of “Why?”.

Asking the question of “why?” is meant to be an iterative process with the primary goal of determining the root cause of a problem. Formally developed by Sakichi Toyoda of Toyota Motor Company, his “5 Whys” technique helped Toyota revolutionize manufacturing methodologies by repeating the question of “Why?”, with each question forming the basis of the next question.

There are no strict rules to this technique, because every problem is different. The only thing to keep in mind is the phrase “people do not fail, processes do”. This phrase is meant to encourage the trouble shooters (Ad Ops in this case) to avoid assumptions and instead trace the chain of causality to the root cause.

For all parties involved, it may be easy to point fingers to explain the problems plaguing the online ad industry, but the “5 Whys” show us that no single party is completely at fault. Pubs, advertisers, and ad tech vendors have not failed. Rather, the current programmatic “process” in place has failed everyone — especially the consumer. Tracing the chain of causality can be a time consuming process, but could also be an empowering one. Organizations may come to realize that they have the power and resources internally to alleviate the growing pains of programmatic advertising that adversely affected their business.

The question of “why?” usually begets several other questions, and that’s OK. It’s more than OK, it’s a necessity. As long as publishers and advertisers are separated by an ambiguous sea of ad tech vendors, it will continue to be difficult for all parties to realize the full potential of programmatic advertising. The Ad Ops role within a given organization bridges that gap and brings clarity to their organization’s programmatic advertising strategy by asking the “why?” questions. While Ad Ops may not have the technical skill to build out solutions, it’s their responsibility to disseminate their findings with internal departments who can. Just remember, “People do not fail, processes do”.