AdForce sees future in mainstream media

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Adforce has competed for six years in online advertising, a market Internet data aggregator eMarketer calculates will hit $6.1 billion in revenue this year.

Now CMGI-owned AdForce's ambition is to tap into the overall advertising market, pegged at $235 billion this year by industry tracker Robert Coen, senior VP-director of forecasting at Universal McCann, an arm of McCann-Erickson WorldGroup.

Having served and tracked Internet ads and wireless devices, AdForce positions itself as a "media operating system" in extending its business model, said Exec VP Dee Cravens.

Anticipating full integration and automation of online and off-line media buying within five years, AdForce wants to serve and track ads running on any medium.

In fact, AdForce's debut last week of its ad-serving capabilities for interactive TV (AdAge.com, Aug. 7) was just one piece of a much larger pie that the company had not previously disclosed.

AUTOMATED BUYING

"We set out two years ago to define our future around this concept of being able to serve ads, coupons, promotions and marketing programs over the Internet," Mr. Cravens said. "Now the extension of that is to add on these other [media] using the same core technology.

"I think media-buying will become highly automated and will be accepted because of the opportunity to reach a number of people quickly, and be able to measure the effectiveness of that campaign in real time," he said. "Someone will really put together a media tool that [links all media], . . a media application that would literally put in the hands of the media buyer an automated purchasing capability. I'm not proposing that AdForce necessarily builds that tool. . . . We are a pure technology company. We don't sell space. The premise of our strategy is wherever a digital signal is sent and received, you can receive a digital ad. You can serve it in real time, track it in real time."

PLAN OF ATTACK

AdForce plans to expand to point-of-purchase couponing devices, kiosks, phone booths, broadcast and cable TV, radio and print.

Mr. Cravens said, however, AdForce has no plans to use advertising to push its expanded offerings.

Mr. Cravens contended AdForce's plan is unprecedented, its technology is ready and all that needs to happen is for agencies to make it a priority to integrate their media-buying.

"From a technology point of view, we feel fairly comfortable that we are there right now. The market has to catch up. The thing that will cause this to move slower . . . [is] media and ad agencies have not intellectually caught up with the market in the sense of thinking of having access to the new media as an opportunity to persuade buyers," Mr. Cravens said. "Because today, they will make the [offline] buys," but usually do not integrate interactive buying.

CHANGE WILL TAKE TIME

Media integration -- a consistent brand message across all media -- certainly "has been the buzz in the [media-buying] industry for many, many years," said Paul Woolmington, worldwide vice chairman-chief strategic officer at New York-based Media Edge, Young & Rubicam's media planning and buying arm. But the end goal so far has not included individualized messages sent via traditional media, he said.

While he said traditional media will ultimately deliver targeted ads in the same way the Internet does, it will not happen overnight.

"Technology is driving everyone to seek new ways of gaining the hearts and minds of consumers, and addressability is becoming much more of an issue." But, Mr. Woolmington said, various media will evolve "in slightly different ways, and to say they will all be like online is naive. They all have certain characteristics that are very, very potent to themselves. Nevertheless, I think technology will help them to evolve."

Once integration takes hold, Mr. Cravens said AdForce will be able to send targeted ads to consumers, whether they are in a car or sitting in front of a TV. This will be possible, he said, by marrying demographic and psychographic information from direct marketing databases with Internet behavior profiling and location-based targeting to which consumers have agreed.

Ad-serving competitor DoubleClick, amid great controversy about invasion of privacy, backed off its plan to marry online and off-line databases. Mr. Cravens said, however, he believes the two will be merged at some point after consumers have opted in.

THIS AD'S FOR YOU

For example, "radio ads will be much like cell phone ads -- the ad you get on the same music station will be different from the ad served to the guy next to you on the same freeway," Mr. Cravens said. Although such ads would be served initially on subscription radio networks, such as XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio that provide targeted channels with content geared to subscriber demographics, targeted ads ultimately could be served to "good, old-fashioned radio in two to three years," he said. "There will be deals between the carriers and the radio stations so that radio stations will be able to target you via a [global positioning system]."

HEYDAY `AROUND THE CORNER'

AdForce's agenda is to offer ad-serving for kiosks before the end of the year and vending machines in 2001. Mr. Cravens declined to divulge clients. Serving and tracking ads on traditional media will be offered in three to five years, he said.

"In the future, [this] will allow ad agencies to do incredible things they can't do today with traditional media," Mr. Cravens said. The heyday for agencies is just around the corner."

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