Survey Data Firm CivicScience Launches An Ad Business, Rulo

CivicScience, an online polling and survey data firm, took its first official step into the media arena on Monday with the launch of Rulo, an ad-buying and programmatic data business.

CivicScience had considered an advertising business for years. Brand and publisher clients clamored for a data service, said Rulo CEO Doug Lauretano. Marketers and publishers have would like to connect reader polling data (on brand recall, say, or likelihood to buy a certain product) to campaign targeting and attribution.

In August, CivicScience raised $15 million from investors, including former Amazon CEO of Worldwide Consumer Jeff Wilke and Thomas Tull, founder and former CEO of the Legendary Entertainment film studio. At the time, the funds were earmarked for a new advertising business, which went public today.

Rulo’s main business will be its data, packaged up for use by advertisers, Lauretano said. Rulo data can be used with an advertiser’s preexisting DSP, for example. However, the company will also have a managed service option if advertisers prefer that option.

“Marketing has gone away from managed service in the last few years. But we want to be as flexible as possible to work with brands however they want to engage,” he said.

CivicScience counts big brands among its clients, so its early biz dev opportunity will be to pick up CivicScience clients, which include McDonald’s, Target and Apple, as well as Airbnb.

A CivicScience client like Airbnb might want to target people who are thinking about traveling in the next few months. Airbnb could use CivicScience’s online survey questions to prompt readers about whether they’re considering traveling or vacation. Airbnb can directly target those users if Rulo and CivicScience have consent from the user, or use the data to create lookalike audiences.

The reason CivicScience hadn’t started an advertising business already, despite requests from advertisers and publishers that wanted to create audience packages based on survey responses, is the company’s concern about infringing on user privacy or turning users away from answering their online polls, Lauretano said. But the founders have come around to the idea of an advertising business built on their polling model, he said.

During his interview process, Lauretano said the CivicScience team told him that privacy infractions or potential user blowback due to targeting was a major concern.

But many other companies with first-party data or visibility into audiences have created ad businesses lately, including practically every retailer, not to mention a whole host of companies – Uber, Instacart, buy now pay later companies – that aren’t ad businesses, now pick up ad revenue.

Rulo will also operate as a standalone subsidiary.

“That was something over time the founders got more comfortable with,” he said. “CivicScience had been concerned about the involvement in all the ugliness that can be online advertising. Respecting user privacy and managing informed consent closely is the company's sacred cow.”

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