Project Canoe Officially Gets Its CEO

Q&A: David Verklin on Getting Dog Food Ads in Front of Dog Owners

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The worst-kept secret in the media industry is a secret no more: Former Aegis Media chief David Verklin has taken the reins of Project Canoe as its new CEO.
David Verklin
David Verklin

After 30 years on the agency side, the last 10 of which were spent at Aegis, Mr. Verklin has gone from media buyer to media distributor with his new role at the helm of Canoe Ventures, the cable consortium's new company. Canoe is comprised of the country's top six cable operators, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Cox, Charter and Bright House Networks, all of which have informally partnered over the last several months to create a universal metric system for video-on-demand so advertisers can scale their advanced advertising solutions on a national level.

It should be noted, however, that Canoe will not sell any of the newly scaled VOD inventory. "Our customers will be the ESPNs, ABCs and NBCs of the world. We will not have a sales force that calls on clients or agencies," Mr. Verklin said. Instead, Canoe will help agencies educate themselves on how to incorporate addressable and interactive advertising capabilities into their media strategies.

Mr. Verklin's appointment happened to fall on the same day his longtime friend and competitor Renetta McCann stepped down as global CEO of Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group. Mr. Verklin views his and Ms. McCann's departures from the agency world as the latest in a "generational change" the media agencies have lately undergone, following Initiative's Alan Cohen taking over at Omnicom Group's OMD and former Initiative CEO Alec Gerster taking on a new role as chief marketing officer at addressable-ad company Navic Networks .

"I think we're seeing a reforestation of the agency business. You get these old elephants like me out of the way," Mr. Verklin said.

Before officially stepping into his new role on Aug. 4, Mr. Verklin, 52, spoke with MediaWorks about why he chose to paddle Canoe now, the potential for addressable advertising to change the way we watch TV and key lessons from his last TV-industry consortium, NUDG.

MediaWorks: Why go to this industry group now?

David Verklin: It's a really interesting moment in the history of the media business in terms of media service companies. If you take a step back, I've been in the agency business for 30 years, really since when I graduated from the University of Virginia in 1978. From 1978 to 2008, I've been an agency guy ...

I really felt like I made a mark in the advertising and media business, and felt a decade was a good run. I'm also really, really excited about the promise of Canoe. I believe I have a chance with my colleagues at Canoe to change the way America watches and uses TV. What I'm about to do could have a profound impact on the living rooms of your parents and you and a generation to come. This is a really magic moment in time in the media business.

MediaWorks: Since you won't be selling advertising as part of Canoe, how would you define your role?

Mr. Verklin: As part of the new Canoe Ventures, we'll be offering three new products. The first is our addressable product, which is something I've talked a lot about in speeches. It's the idea of putting dog food commercials only in front of people that own a dog. This has been the goal of advertisers for almost three decades -- the elimination of waste. The internet has taken us very far that way online. If you're an advertiser just on WebMD, you're probably advertising to a health-concerned segment of the population. Other media is the next battleground for addressability. This is fundamentally about putting dog food commercials in front of people who own dogs.

The second is our interactive product. What this means is really the idea of running, let's say, a Kraft macaroni-and-cheese commercial and being able to click a button and get a free sample. If you click a button, press "C" on your remote control and get a telescoped ad, or a 30-second TV commercial. Then you download or stream that ad to you or receive a brochure.

Third is our data and analytic products. We'll be using the data we will be able to get through our six [cable multi-service operator] partners. We'll be respecting privacy at all times. Everything we do will be compliant with the 1983 Cable Act, and will help us serve the right ads to the right folks.

MediaWorks: We've seen addressable advertising experiments in pockets over the years, but it's often been individual-market, individual-MSO campaigns. How soon can we start seeing Canoe scaling some of these opportunities on a national level?

Mr. Verklin: Right now we have a national product, Election '08, that we're using as the first product for Canoe. We're dedicating a channel on all the MSO partners where we can say to viewers, watch this channel, click "A" if you agree with this issue, click "B" if you disagree. The neat idea here is it's a coast-to-coast footprint, a joint product across all the MSOs, and you can begin to see where we're already at in the market. Certainly it's a preliminary product, but I would argue it's the first initial step of what the Canoe promise represents.

MediaWorks: What obstacles do you see in getting the industry to cooperate on VOD? Why should they?

Mr. Verklin: We have enormous challenges. The first thing we have to do is harmonize six legacy systems. All the MSOs have been built through acquisition; they're very different platforms. Election '08 shows we can begin to work together. Our second challenge, without a doubt, is to keep everybody in the canoe together. We have six different companies here. They all recognize they need to get in a canoe together, but that's going to be hard. Keeping individual business needs and keeping the consortium together is going to be a big challenge of my skills and diplomacy.

MediaWorks: As a veteran media agency executive, what was your perspective on how well the TV industry is at cooperating? It was four years ago that your group NUDG, the Network Upfront Discussion Group, unsuccessfully tried to change the way the TV-buying process was handled.

Mr. Verklin: I've begun to talk privately to some of the programming networks, and I think they're pretty excited about it, there's no channel conflict. Their sales force will be trained to be able to sell enhanced advertising or advanced advertising.

MediaWorks: The consensus we keep hearing from marketers and agencies alike is that these new technologies can't come fast enough. How do you assess that urgency?

Mr. Verklin: If you asked me where the gravity is pulling the advertising business, I would say it's advertising to the interested. I believe with the help of Canoe, four years from now you will say to me, "I find the ads on TV to be more interesting." The reason for that is more of the ads you see in the future will be ads that are served to you because you've showed some proclivity toward that service. When I talk to the networks about interactivity and addressability, I haven't met a programmer who hasn't said no. The way they feel about it is very exciting.
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