Acxiom Criticizes 'Faulty' Digital Data Providers on Their Own Turf

Acxiom's Latest Push Puts the Traditional Data Firm Squarely in the Wheel House of IAB's Core Membership, Digital Publishers

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Traditional data firms with troves of historical customer information from the largest brands in the world are infiltrating the digital ad market, and Acxiom may be the most aggressive of the bunch. The firm is at this week's annual gathering of the online ad industry's largest trade group, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, in Phoenix. Its latest push puts Acxiom squarely in the wheel house of the IAB's core membership, digital publishers.

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe
Acxiom CEO Scott Howe

The company aims to connect the data it stores for its clients -- purchase history, loyalty card information, categorical interests, and brand affinity, along with demographic, household income data, media consumption data and other information -- to publisher sites. To do that, Acxiom hopes to convince publishers to add its "Abilitag" to their sites.

Two multinational advertisers are currently using the system, which went into testing in December, according to Tim Suther, Acxiom's chief marketing and strategy officer.

As reported by Ad Age last week, Acxiom already is partnering with Facebook to test ad targeting on the social site using customer loyalty shopping data.

The tag system extends the technology Acxiom uses internally to match its clients' direct mail, email, online cookies and other data sets, now enabling it for ad targeting online and in mobile. The system will eventually be used for digital TV ads also. The approach is not entirely different from offline-to-online database matching that connects an advertiser's data to large sites with registration data such as Yahoo or AOL.

However, Acxiom argues that its system goes beyond that approach by allowing sites that don't have registration information to connect advertisers to their customers in digital channels. The idea is to use the Acxiom tag to identify a customer who visits an Acxiom client site, then a publisher partner site. Though Acxiom takes umbrage with the notion, it's certainly not unlike retargeting, though in this case, the site retargeting is backed up with lots of historical data creating a clearer picture of the consumer.

Digital data used for online ad targeting is "ephemeral," said Phil Mui, chief product and engineering officer at Acxiom. He added that many of the digital data providers and services operating in the online space are "pandering faulty intent data," and suggested that categorizing users into audience segments based on recent online behavior such as searches and content views does not create a full, lasting picture of a consumer.

To be fair, behavioral targeting is typically intended to capture an in-market consumer who has shown interest in a product or service, in short time.

The firm believes it can help publishers boost CPM rates by bringing robust customer data to digital and mobile. Acxiom said it strips personally identifiable information from the customer data it manages before matches are made.

Advertisers can only target their own customers using their own first-party data, coupled with third-party information -- rather than using the system to conquest the competition.

Acxiom is also pushing a complementary site-audience-measurement product called Audience Portrait to publishers. As with its other digital offerings, the company believes its data is more reliable than the arguably incomplete online behavioral and intent data employed for publishers to create look-a-like models to extend reach.

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