Amazon Breaks Silence on Ad Ambitions in Advertising Week Foray

A Coming-Out Party for Tech's Newest Entrant Into Ad Biz

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Advertising Week is turning into a coming-out party for Amazon's ad business, an ecosystem of devices, owned websites and an ad network that can target 180 million users based on what they've browsed or bought in the past.

West Coast-based tech companies have long seen Advertising Week as an opportunity to make a splash for Madison Avenue. Amazon is generally a shadow player, but this year it wanted to be sure its presence didn't go unnoticed: the company sponsored the opening-night gala at the New York Public Library and is hosting presentations throughout the week.

Lisa Utzschneider, Amazon's VP-global sales, drew a standing-room-only crowd to The Times Center; the line to enter had to be moved off an internal staircase for fear it could not bear the weight. Once inside, Ms. Utzschneider pitched Amazon's ecosystem of websites and devices and showed off ads with Amazon's familiar buy button.

Amazon is a secretive company; rumors of its ad business travel mostly based on the hundreds of salespeople they've hired in New York City over the past few years. The company leased 10,000 square feet of space on Sixth Avenue in 2009 and has expanded that to 92,000 square feet since then. Unlike most in the ad business who love to talk to the press -- and generally do so freely -- Amazon execs need approval from Seattle to do interviews.

In her presentation, Ms. Utzschneider said Amazon has actually been in the ad business for six years when it started out with five untargeted ad units. Today the offering includes the log-in page of some Kindle devices, deep targeting data based on past purchases and inventory on sites like IMDB, Zappos, Soap.com and Diapers.com. She also showed ads for Sony with a buy button and an ad for CBS Films with a trailer for "Words."

"When it comes to advertising we have applied many of our core tenets by starting with the customer and working our way backwards," she told the audience. "We are actually running ads we are proud of ."

Sources familiar with Amazon's ad sales said the company does a lot of business directly with brands that rely on Amazon as a sales channel -- Phillips joined Ms. Utzschneider on stage -- not with agencies.

Amazon's Madison Avenue charm offensive continues Wednesday, when it hosts another panel, moderated by one of the more influential members of the advertising establishment, Association of National Advertisers President Bob Liodice. That panel will include former Yahoo sales exec and current head of North American sales Seth Dallaire, as well as execs from Citi, Nielsen and Tribal DDB.

Mr. Liodice was behind the blistering attack on Microsoft, another tech company hoping to boost its profile. He said he was surprised to receive an invitation from Amazon, which generally keeps a low profile at industry events. "I was thrilled because Amazon has been in the weeds for a long time," he said. "It's nice to see them break out and be more vocal and transparent about how all this works."

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