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AOL’s Programmatic Upfront: Converting Convertro Into A DMP, Unveiling TV Targeting Tools

ProgUpfrontIf AOL hadn’t already made it clear it would double down on digital video and end-to-end marketing tech at its Digital Newfront in May, Monday’s Programmatic Upfront at Advertising Week in New York left no doubt.

AOL’s latest development? The company has layered in and built a data-management platform (DMP) out of attribution vendor Convertro, which it purchased in May.

The DMP will complement ONE by AOL, an early-stage unified platform combining video from AOL’s acquisition, the AdLearn Open Platform and AOL Marketplace, which the company unveiled in March.

AOL will roll out the DMP first to existing programmatic customers and it is designed to provide a single view across a marketer’s entire inventory – both on AOL and off. If 2014 was the year of the rebrand from AOL Networks to AOL Platforms, 2015 will be about the DMP or the “marketing investment platform.”

“Customers are changing the way [media] decision processes are happening,” said AOL CEO Tim Armstrong to a small group of press and analysts before he presented to an intimate gathering of 150 agency employees and marketers at Spring Studios in SoHo. The crowd was substantially smaller than last year's inaugural programmatic upfront, which drew 700.

Marc Fonzetti, director of media strategy and investment for Verizon Wireless, revealed during the Programmatic Upfront that AOL’s ability to blend CRM, media and second-party data led to a new partnership. Verizon Wireless could also augment data in AOL’s ONE platform by hooking it up to Oracle-owned DMP BlueKai, an openness which spurred Verizon's selection.


With Atlas Relaunch, Facebook Advances New Cross-Device ID Based On Logged In Users

atlas-facebookFacebook has done something big with the relaunch of its Atlas ad server, acquired from Microsoft 16 months ago, but that something has little to do with serving ads. Rather it's about replacing the beleaguered cookie with a new, more reliable ad-tracking mechanism for the mobile age.

The new Atlas – expected to be unveiled Monday – leverages the relationships Facebook has with users who are logged in across devices to support a new persistent tracking mechanism. This ID, which strips out all but the most basic information about a Facebook user, is the first salvo in what many expect to be a series of moves by large Internet companies such as Google, Yahoo, Amazon and Twitter to use the login as the foundation of ad personalization and measurement.

"What we're bringing to the table is mobile," said David Jakubowski, who joined the company recently to head up Atlas and the Facebook Audience Network, the company's nascent ad network. "When you run an ad on Facebook, they know because you're logged in. We've partnered with all the major apps and ad networks and exchanges very specifically around the mobile world to enable Atlas to receive the ad events. When the ad runs from those places, we can use that to tie back all of the channels."

With the new cross-device measurement solution, Atlas will also begin to support other features, such as retargeting and pooling data from different sources, that have traditionally been the domain of specialized vendors such as data-management platforms and demand-side platforms.

But the new Atlas has its limits, chief among them that marketers are constrained in their ability to intermingle Facebook's cross-device data with other forms of first- and third-party data they house in outside platforms such as Acxiom. In short: Facebook's new tracking standard may be ready-made for the multidevice era, but you can't "take it with you."


Fraud-day With comScore: An Ad Impression Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

fraudThis is the ninth in a series of interviews with vendors combating the problem of ad fraud. Other companies participating in this series include Moat, Sizmek and Asia RTB. Read previous interviews with DoubleVerify, Dstillery, Forensiq, Integral Ad Science, PubChecker, Telemetry, Videology and White Ops.

Digital ad fraud isn’t anything new.

comScore has been picking up on instances of non-human traffic dating all the way back to 2001, when it launched its audience measurement and media planning tool Media Metrix. 

“Of course, it’s changed dramatically over the years and it continues to evolve,” said Brian Pugh, comScore’s SVP of audience.

In an effort to keep up with that change, comScore acquired Mdotlabs at the beginning of August, a company with roots in the cybersecurity space.

“We’re data scientists,” said Timur Yarnall, co-founder of MdotLabs and SVP and anti-fraud evangelist at comScore.

And data scientists are what comScore needs if it’s going to “build trust across the whole comScore system,” said Pugh.

“comScore is a third-party neutral currency and it’s our responsibility to only report people,” he said. “We’ve been dealing with non-human traffic for a long time, and we simply cannot report those ‘audiences’ with our measurement tools. That’s the cost of doing business for comScore.”

Pugh’s and Yarnall’s teams are working on integrating the MdotLabs tech into comScore’s various offerings, including validated Campaign Essentials (vCE) and validated Media Essentials (vME). Although there’s no specific date set, Pugh said integration will be complete “very soon.”

“We want to help publishers and advertisers feel confident about their inventory,” Pugh said.

AdExchanger spoke with Pugh and Yarnall.


WPP Group Supplies AppNexus With Open AdStream And A $25M Check

bigbrians-lesser-okelleyAppNexus wants to rethink the publisher ad server as a holistic platform for yield management, and it's starting with a rather old piece of technology.

The company will acquire Open AdStream (OAS) from Xaxis as part of a major transaction with WPP Group that will also give the holding company a $25 million stake in the programmatic platform. After the transfer of OAS (valued at about $155 million) and the new stake, WPP will have a roughly 15% position in AppNexus, which is now valued at $1.2 billion.

The transaction is part of a round AppNexus first announced one month ago that also includes a $60 million investment from an unidentified Boston public equity and asset management firm.

"We live in a world where there's only a handful of foundational technology platforms," said AppNexus CEO Brian O'Kelley. "One of those foundational areas is the publisher ad server. For the last 20 years it's been the most important technology for the publisher that wants to make money in the online advertising space. To this day it remains one of the most important and perhaps one of the least changed parts of the space."

As AppNexus and WPP see it, a platform offering independent of major consumer media platforms Facebook and Google is needed in the ad-server category.

"As Google continues to use its overall heft to drive publishers to DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP), there's a real risk that publishers are being left out of the programmatic revolution," O'Kelley said. "It's daunting. Google has a very strong position, but it's time for a change."


FTC Big Data Workshop: More Transparency, Please

FTC ImageThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants to know what marketers are doing with segmentation profiles like “urban scrambler” and “ethnic second city struggler.”

The potential for advertising segmentation to exacerbate inequality was a central topic at Monday’s FTC workshop, “Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?” The Washington, D.C., event included representatives from advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the consumer side and the National Retail Federation (NRF) on the marketers' side, as well as data companies like Epsilon.

While the FTC has proposed legislation to address issues in data marketing, the workshop also served as a forum for how the industry, especially data brokers, should self-regulate.

“There needs to be more accountability throughout the ecosystem,” FTC Commissioner Julie Brill told AdExchanger at the event. The FTC has already made legislative recommendations regarding data brokers and data security. Some are outlined in an FTC report, “Data Brokers: A Call for Transparency and Accountability,” released in May. (more…)

Presto, Programmatic Player Chango Taps Microsoft Vet To Accelerate Sales

KeithLorizioChango’s new CRO, Keith Lorizio, has an ad tech CV as long as your arm – but it was only a short while ago that he became a convert to the gospel of programmatic.

“I wasn’t a fan of programmatic about three years ago back when I was a rep with a big publisher working on things like MSN and Xbox,” said Lorizio, who most recently held a post as VP of US sales at Microsoft (he left in February).

Before that gig he built the Yahoo mid-market sales team from scratch, growing revenue to about $350 million, and before that Lorizio spent time as VP of the East Coast and inside sales at early search engine AltaVista.

“Back then, the ability to buy inventory at cheaper rates felt like it would only hurt overall revenue – but now it’s a totally different world,” Lorizio said. “Programmatic isn’t just about buying inventory. … It’s about procuring that inventory at the right price and generating better results.”

Founded in 2008, Chango's technology uses intent data to help advertisers build more timely campaigns. Its client list includes Clorox, eBay, Sears, Sprint and Toyota.

The Chango sales team now stands at a little less than 40 people, and Lorizio has been given license to roughly double that in the next six months.

AdExchanger caught up with Lorizio.


For Old-School Epsilon, Conversant ​Buy Will Bring Tech And New Channels

alliance convertroAlliance Data Systems’ (ADS) intent to acquire Conversant (formerly ValueClick) for its Epsilon subsidiary might seem like a change in direction. R Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder at Constellation Research, described the intent to acquire as “the right move” to make Epsilon “a legit…tech company.”

On a first gloss that seems like a pivot. Epsilon has until now considered itself a marketing services company with a strong partner ecosystem. Does integrating Conversant’s tech push Epsilon from services to tech provider, like what rival Acxiom is trying to do with its Audience Operating System (AOS) platform?

To Pivot, Or Not To Pivot

Not so fast, said Epsilon CEO Bryan Kennedy. “That might be a little bit of a mis-representation,” he told AdExchanger. Epsilon’s heritage, he said, is around managing data and databases and building multichannel marketing campaigns; Conversant’s tech will strengthen the company’s ability to execute. “This is less about getting into the ad tech sector and more about having scale and rich capabilities in display and mobile channels,” he said.

$2.3 billion might seem a lot to pay for enhancements, but for Dan Salmon, equity research analyst at BMO Capital Markets,  it’s money well spent.

Fraud-day With Dstillery: Everyone Is Responsible For Fighting Fraud

fraudThis is the seventh in a series of interviews with vendors combating the problem of ad fraud. Other companies participating in this series include Moat, Telemetry, Sizmek, comScore and Asia RTB. Read previous interviews with DoubleVerify, Forensiq, Integral Ad Science, PubChecker, Videology and White Ops.

The battle against botnets is ongoing. Ad tech firm Dstillery knows that firsthand.

Back in 2012, Dstillery, which then went by the name Media6Degrees, noticed something decidedly odd about the clients of its marketing partners – they were all acting the exact same way.

It’s like this: There’s always going to be a certain amount of audience crossover between traffic on related sites. It makes sense that the kind of person who visits is also likely to visit If you visit, it’s not statistically unlikely you’d also hit up

But what if the customers for Verizon, Allstate and Williams-Sonoma all suddenly started hitting up the same websites in droves – websites you’ve probably never even heard of. The situation was certainly fishy.

“One of the sites was a Chinese news site, another was a women’s health site, another was a DIY website – it made no sense,” said Dstillery COO Andrew Pancer. “It was really screwing up our models. We knew something was up, but we couldn’t figure out what it was.”


Alliance Data Buys Epsilon a $2.3B Present: Conversant

epsilon conversantWondering about Conversant’s future? Wonder no more, as the ad network turned ad tech company will be acquired by Alliance Data for $2.3 billion in cash and stock. Conversant (formerly known as ValueClick/Dotomi) will be folded into Alliance’s marketing services division Epsilon. Alliance hopes to close the deal by the end of the year.

From the release:

    "Conversant projections for 2015 are revenue of $670 million (+8 percent) and adjusted EBITDA of $230 million, or mid-30 percent adjusted EBITDA margins. Organic revenue and adjusted EBITDA growth rates have trended in the high single-digits range in the past with similar expectations for the near term."

“It’s about filling up the toolbox to the brim with a very, very compelling set of products and services that will put us at the table of any CMO that’s out there in the global 5,000,” said Alliance CEO and president Ed Heffernan during a conference call announcing the acquisition.

So what was missing in Alliance’s – or Epsilon’s – toolbox? Per Heffernan, while Epsilon was bullish about its digital messaging platform Harmony, it was “subscale” in key areas like targeted display, video and mobile. These are all areas of concentration for Conversant.

The New Rocket Fuel: Questions For CEO George John And [X+1] CEO John Nardone

george-john-nardone-rocket-fuelRocket Fuel closed on its acquisition of [x+1] Friday, transforming itself from what was primarily an ad network company into a credible platform play focused on the software-as-a-service opportunity in programmatic marketing.

The new Rocket Fuel has far more of the attributes of a "programmatic marketing platform" than the old one, providing clients with the ability to centrally manage their data and use it to message across a range of paid and owned channels. [X+1] brings these capabilities via its data-management platform (DMP), demand-side platform (DSP) and site-side optimization capabilities. These will augment Rocket Fuel's "artificial intelligence" approach to exchange-traded media buying and optimization.

For more on the deal and its details, AdExchanger spoke with the men in charge of the two companies: Rocket Fuel CEO George John and John Nardone, the former chief at [x+1] whose title is now EVP and general manager at Rocket Fuel.

AdExchanger: Talk about the fate of [x+1]'s Origin Marketing Hub vs. the much younger Rocket Fuel DSP. Do you maintain separate platforms or migrate all your customers to one and shut down the other?  

GEORGE JOHN: It's more of a blend than it is keep one, shut down the other.

[X+1]'s Origin platform is beloved by customers for the ability to put in the marketing rules that the teams would prescribe around what products to recommend in which situations, and how to make that consistent across channels. The value is around involving the people more in that process and then being able to integrate with multiple touch points, once that decisioning is prescribed.

Rocket Fuel's strength was, given a precise goal, letting the AI run with it and managing the petabytes of data that the AI works on top of. As we blend, you'll see a lot of the workflow, a lot of the user interface around decisioning and rule logic from the Origin platform. And we'll be able to leverage their existing technology for the channel integrations, the touch point integrations. You'll see that get augmented with Rocket Fuel's AI. Given the constraints that the marketing programs have, within those constraints there's just oceans of optimization to explore. We'll be able to set the AI free on that and deliver some added ROI.