Then a few weeks ago, after almost 10 years of near-silence on new media, Mr. Kurnit announced a new venture: AdKeeper, a service coming next month to let consumers keep ads for later.
Mr. Kurnit talked with Advertising Age about why anyone would bother saving online ads -- and why the industry shouldn't find that so hard to believe.
Advertising Age: Why would anybody want to save an online ad?
Scott Kurnit: I get asked this question in every meeting I've been in: Scott, what are you thinking? You think people are going to save ads? I've heard it many times, and from big marketers like Kraft and Pepsi, and they all signed up for this service.
Ad Age: Isn't the skepticism understandable?
Mr. Kurnit: It's interesting: The closer someone is to the advertising business, the more suspect they are about people keeping the ads. Most people in the industry think ads suck. I will agree there is a lot of crappy advertising on the internet. But if they work in the business, why don't they make better ads?
Ad Age: It still remains to be seen if anyone will keep ads. You recently did a survey with Nielsen that says 71% of respondents will keep ads a few times a week. But it was based on a question and not a view of the actual product.
Mr. Kurnit: I will make an offer of $100 to Ad Age readers for the first person or the first 10 people who find me an ad -- they'll have to capture that with a camera or something -- that wouldn't be more useful to a reasonable segment of the audience if it was kept for later.
Ad Age: You're equivocating on that offer. Define "reasonable segment."
Mr. Kurnit: Twitter reaches 8% of the audience, so let's say 8%.
Ad Age: How does AdKeeper work?
Mr. Kurnit: There's a button that's placed in the ad by the advertiser. Scott clicks the button, I know that Scott kept that ad. I have no preexisting relationship with Scott. We take the ad and put it into Scott's Keeper, I don't know who Scott is. He looks at more ads, he keeps more ads. Keep, keep, keep, keep, keep... Scott's now got 30 ads in his Keeper. He then goes to his Keeper and there are his 30 ads. He can sort those ads by category or advertiser. He gets a bunch of extra functions like sorting and he can share through Twitter or Facebook, can take notes on it.
Ad Age: How do you know which ads to keep if Scott doesn't have to register?
Mr. Kurnit: We drop a cookie onto your browsers. We now have a persistent relationship with you. Eventually, we want you to register.
Ad Age: They would otherwise lose their "Keeps," as you call them, if they switch computers, from work to home, or if they clear their cookies. But won't that turn off people?
Mr. Kurnit: We're doing progressive registration. Netflix is the best at progressive registration. Reed Hastings is phenomenal at this. You don't have to ask for everything up front. We'll ask for a little more at each visit. That's how Netflix does it, and they do an amazing job. And this is my conjecture, but there's an assumptive registration wall that has to exist for 80% to 90% of people because they're humans that use the internet -- everyone already expects it.
Ad Age: A bunch of big marketers have already signed up for this service, including AT&T, Pepsi, CBS, Ford, Gap, Kraft, McDonald's and Unilever. What are they paying to use AdKeeper?
Mr. Kurnit: It's free for everybody for the first six months. Rate structures will be determined. You don't know what your rates are until you get there.
Ad Age: When you get there, what will you charge them?
Mr. Kurnit: It will be negotiated downstream. I think that pricing on a radically new media business should start later.
Ad Age: Will you charge by impressions? Or will there be a cost per click, or cost per acquisition?
Mr. Kurnit: Once we start charging we'll get in a discussion -- cost per thousand, cost per click, cost per acquisition or some combination. We'll have to see. The reason we're staring without charging is we want to do what's right for the advertiser.
Ad Age: First six months free, whenever the advertiser starts?
Mr. Kurnit: No, until July.
Ad Age: So marketers who come to you later than January will lose out?
Mr. Kurnit: Advertisers who are dawdlers lose out.
Ad Age: Advertisers who do sign up will get data on how many "Keeps" there were for a particular ad, but aren't you just offering them data on which creative executions worked best?
Mr. Kurnit: Not just that. You get two benefits. One is, "This unit worked creatively or didn't," and two is, which websites worked better for getting ads kept. We'll tell advertisers which publishers are going to have the best "Keep" index. That's interesting to media buyers for shifting media weight. In fact, we're going to work with publishers too. We'll talk to whoever their audience acquisition person is, and they can have free use of AdKeeper.
Ad Age: How?
Mr. Kurnit: A lot of sites have house ads that say things like, "Sign up for our newsletter"; "Buy a copy of our print edition"; "Special feature coming this Thursday." Granted, there are a lot of publishers that don't do a good job of this. But this way, readers can keep these house ads for later. Signing up for a newsletter is a secondary activity. They may not have time to do it during the work day. They may prefer to do it later at 7 p.m. Publishers are interested in this. The New York Times is an investor.
Ad Age: The New York Times is an investor? Who else?
Mr. Kurnit: The Times is the only direct publishing investor. The chairman of Huffington Post is an investor, Kenneth Lerer. John Battelle is on the advisory board.
Ad Age: Government officials have recently been looking more aggressively at companies that track consumers for behavioral advertising on the web. AdKeeper will be sitting on a lot of cookie data. Will you be selling that to advertisers for the purposes of targeting?
Mr. Kurnit: Not really. No question evervbody's data-crazy right now. I have it in my long-term plan to represent the consumer, and sell his data for him and cut him in. If you look at our business, what we're about, these are consumers that have self-selected. Our motto is, "Consumer first, advertiser second." I think the reason the FTC is all over the industry right now is the industry has gone way too far.
Ad Age: So you won't even give marketers cookie data, such as how many women aged 18-34 kept a particular ad?
Mr. Kurnit: The marketer gets all that data on an aggregated basis. We will tell XYZ marketers that they had so many keeps from, say, the Huffington Post, and so many from Yahoo, and so many from AOL, but not things like demographics. Not now. And we'll let the publishers know how many ads were kept from their site.
Ad Age: People who save ads on AdKeeper can also delete an ad. If I delete an ad, you still charge?
Mr. Kurnit: Yes. It's like driving past a billboard. It still gives me value. We will be the most consumer-friendly advertising company in the world. That means transparency to the consumer. We will never put something in your Keeper you didn't ask for.
Ad Age: You sold About.com to Primedia in 2001, and left soon after. You haven't been in the industry till now. What got you to start AdKeeper?
Mr. Kurnit: I've been thinking about this company since I started About. So it was either do this back then or do About.
We were discussing this back in the early days. We asked, 'When somebody hits the back button, what do we do?' We made 100% the wrong decision. When you hit the back button, we said, "Shit, let's load a new impression -- we get paid on impressions." That ad is gone.
Either we in the industry have so little respect for advertising, which I think is true, or the industry just doesn't respect itself, and we're trying to change that.
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