Digiday: ‘An ad tech urban legend’: An oral history of how header bidding became digital advertising’s hottest buzzword

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Fed up with how Google’s ad server favoured its own exchange, over the past two years many publishers restructured their tech stacks to simultaneously offer inventory to multiple exchanges before making their ad calls. Since this approach has helped pubs drive revenue and dial back Google’s competitive advantage, it caught like wildfire. The strategy is widely known as header bidding, and it is the du jour topic at ad tech conferences.

Here is the story of how the buzzword came to be, from some of those who helped popularize it. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Alternate names
The concept of header bidding wasn’t always called header bidding. For years, vendors pushed their own nomenclature.

Paul Bannister, co-founder, CafeMedia: There was a lot of confusion in the beginning about what to call it.

Emry Downinghall, vp of advertising, Chegg: Originally, it was called “tagless,” but that made little sense because there were still plenty of tags.

Erik Requidan, vp of programmatic strategy, Intermarkets: Imagine if tagless took off. How do you explain the mechanics around that?

Jason Fairchild, CRO, OpenX: We didn’t originally call it header bidding. We called it “bidder” because it was a product of ours. We also referred to this concept as “parallel auction” or “universal auction.”

Matt Prohaska, CEO, Prohaska Consulting: I had heard it called “JavaScript in the header” and “full bidding.”

Michael Grosinger, product manager, bRealTime: We had called it “dynamic bidding.”

Bannister: I have a spec doc from Criteo where it was called “real-time advertising targeting,” but that was their brand name and had no generic naming. I have docs from Amazon where it is called “match buy,” but again, no real generic names.

The term ‘header bidding’ debuts
The names that vendors pushed eventually subsided. For some insiders, the term “header bidding” came to their attention a few years before it spread throughout the industry.

Chip Schenck, VP of programmatic, Meredith: I started hearing the term “header” in late 2014. As in: “We enable our SSP in the header so it can submit bids in advance of the ad call.” But that was only to describe the location.

Gabriel DeWitt, VP of product and technical operations, Index Exchange: I started calling it header bidding in 2014 — right from the beginning.


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