NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Several veterans of the pioneering ad-targeting firm Tacoda Systems have resurfaced at a new startup, Ad Summos, which promises web publishers an alternative to blind ad networks and ad exchanges.
The startup, led by former Tacoda CEO and AOL executive Curt Viebranz, is now in business with one of the first publishers to take a public stand against ad networks: Forbes.com.
In a nutshell, Ad Summos (Latin for "to the heights") is an ad network and data provider, but with a big difference: Publishers can see who is bidding what on an ad placement -- and can then either accept or reject the buy. That's a contrast with the typical ad network, which buys inventory from websites and then resells it, meaning publishers don't know which advertisers will wind up on their sites, and get only blunt control over pricing.
Bids on Ad Summos inventory will theoretically come in higher than on most ad networks because Ad Summos integrates with the publishers' ad server and skims off the best impressions before they go to ad networks or exchanges.
Proving ads work
Mr. Viebranz has had some time to consider the gaps in the online ad ecosystem since leaving AOL in 2008. "We looked at the ecosystem and think there is a lot of white space around helping the publisher," he said. "As the data is decoupled from the media, we're seeing impression values plummet."
To answer that, Ad Summos is adding a data layer to "prove" that the online impression led to some kind of offline action. A browser ID gets placed in what Mr. Viebranz calls a "clean room," where it is matched with offline data from multiple providers as well as online data from Exelate and BlueKai, and then stripped of personal identifying information and reported back to the advertiser.
The point of this isn't to target the ad itself, but to give the advertiser a sense of whether it worked. Did the person subsequently buy a car make and model, a box of cereal or register at an e-commerce site?
New tactic for Forbes.com
Despite its differences, Ad Summos is still an ad network at heart and thus a change of course for Forbes.com, which kicked out ad networks in 2007 and subsequently explored a number of ways to cope with unsold inventory, including its own network targeting Forbes readers on other sites.
"We obviously have done business with a number of networks and yield management companies over the years, but Ad Summos' offerings are unique in multiple ways," Mike Perlis, former CEO of Softbank Partners and newly appointed CEO of Forbes, said in a statement. "Their approach is far more balanced than others we've seen, which is why we are working with them."
Ad Summos is looking to integrate with premium publishers only -- and then sell those impressions on a blind basis to advertisers. Mr. Viebranz said he expects pricing at around $3.50 to $4 per-thousand viewers, much less than the prices on ads that are sold directly by the publishers, which can be anywhere from $10 to $20 per thousand, but more than typical ad networks or exchanges, which bring $1 or less.
Mr. Viebranz said Ad Summos doesn't replace optimizers such as PubMatic, Rubicon Project or Admeld, but works alongside them. Those services maximize yield on impressions, but don't give the publisher a view on who is bidding or the advertiser data in return.
For all the bluster from publishers that resent ad networks' downward pressure on prices, they've still got impressions to sell that they cannot sell directly to brands -- which means working with networks and exchanges if they're going to sell the inventory at all. "There are very few who believe they can still build the castle wall and the moat and not let anybody in," he said.
Ad Summos has raised a $3 million round of initial funding from Avalon Ventures; Avalon partner Rich Levendoff, who serves on Ad Summos' board, backed Tacoda while at Masthead Ventures. The Ad Summos management team includes three Tacoda veterans including Mr. Viebranz, president Dan Jaye and Exec VP Matthew Goldstein. Dave Morgan, a founder of Tacoda and current CEO of Simulmedi, is an adviser to the company.