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Tech companies try to stay lean. They don’t want to hire too many sales people, and they can’t build the perfect advertising tool for every buyer. So following in Google and Facebook’s footsteps, today Twitter and in November LinkedIn launched ads APIs. They set up a powerful value exchange: “Help us sell more ads, and we’ll give you a cut.”
If you’ve ever bought online ads with a self-serve interface, you know it basically doesn’t work. I did it on Facebook at my first job out of college. ‘Twas hell. Maybe if you’re a small business trying to spend $50 with no regard for optimization it will “work.” But if you want to spend any serious money on an ad campaign without throwing handfuls of cash into a bonfire, you need a programmatic interface.
Every business wants a different interface, though. Some want a standalone buying tool for a specific ad platform or social network. Some want it built into the same system running their search ads so they can shift spend across the channels to get the biggest bang for their buck on any given day. Some want to control all the targeting, others want artificial intelligence to hunt for the best-performing creatives and audiences, and still others want their websites automatically packaged into ads. Trying to build all these different options in-house would be impossible for most ad platforms.
Meanwhile, there’s the job of actually selling the ads to all these different types of businesses. A platform’s biggest clients often get full-service hand-holding, while their smallest have to fight through the self-serve tool. In the middle there’s a thicket of businesses across verticals and international borders. Hiring and training an in-house sales team to machete their way into these company’s pockets can be a huge up-front cost and lead to a bloated head count.