Solve Media Launches Brand-Research Tool Disguised as a Captcha

What Does This Brand Mean to You?

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Solve Media sure loves its Captchas -– those usually hard-to-read letters that web users have to type in to prove that they aren't a bot. The startup first came out with Captchas that require people to type in a brand's advertising slogan or tagline, and then iterated on the type-in model by letting online viewers skip pre-roll video ads if they type in a brand's message. Now, the company is rolling out a tool called Brand Tags that turns Captchas into mini brand-research tools for brands.

Starting today, more and more of Solve's 4,500 partnering publisher sites will display Captchas that display a brand's logo instead of squiggly letters, and instruct web visitors to type in a word or phrase that they think best describes the brand (these Captchas are only shown to people who haven't raised any red flags recently with their responses to a combination of traditional Captchas and branded type-in Captchas). Solve has been testing out the product over the last few months and is now opening it up to the public.

"Solve is about 'How do we take really complex brand problems and turn out really simple solutions?" Solve Media CEO Ari Jacoby said. "Brand Tags is about 'How do you take brand research and really simplify it?"

Solve quietly acquired the website back in 2010 from Noah Brier, who was then working at The Barbarian Group and who has since gone on to co-found the content-curation startup Percolate. (Mr. Brier received cash -- less than $1 million -- and some Solve Media stock in exchange for what had been a side project of his.)

Brand Tags started out simply as a website that let visitors type in their description of random brands and also view word clouds of the most common descriptions of a given brand. But Mr. Brier felt that the idea needed a bigger platform to reach its real potential.

"The challenge with a product like that is how do you continue to collect responses," Mr. Brier wrote in an email to Ad Age . "For me it was easy when I was getting a bunch of press, but once that stopped I had no scalable mechanism for collecting more responses."

Enter Solve, which took some time to think about the best implementation of Brand Tags and then started building up the database of brand descriptions by rolling out this type of Captcha to 0.25% of its Captcha inventory -- enough to generate tens of thousands of user-generated responses about a brand a day, Mr. Jacoby said. "We can get an unusually large sample size overnight," he said. The premise of Brand Tags is that a consumer's perception of a brand is in fact reality, and one that could help measure the effectiveness of brand advertising online.

"It can take the pulse of the consumer and understand what the perception of a brand is before, during and after a campaign to optimize messaging," Mr. Jacoby said.

But will people who run into these Captchas online offer any valuable responses or just spew out the most basic descriptions to get on with what they are trying to accomplish online? A little of both it seems. A list of user responses to a Purina logo shows that "dog food" was the top entry with more than three times the count of the next highest response, which was "good." Further down the list you get "quality" and "nutritious," but also a synonym for "crap."

Jeremy Sanchez, CEO of Global Strategies, an Ogilvy company that handles search strategy for Purina, said in an interview that his agency has used Brand Tags to help supplement the search data it mines to inform the choice of words used in the content on a Purina website. "Brand Tags is a very simple way to fill the gap between what we find in social listening and what we find in search; that is , a quick sense of someone's emotional response to a brand," he said.

Mr. Sanchez said that generally speaking, negative responses could be insightful as well, possibly hinting at a shift in consumer sentiment around a brand recall or some other crisis. His team could then enter those terms into a social-listening tool to scour social platforms for more context on why consumers are using a certain phrase in connection with a brand.

Solve is not charging for the service. Instead, it is an added benefit for current customers, who get a data dump of all the phrases that users type in about their brand and a tally of the number of each response. In the coming months, the results will be automatically added into the dashboards of Solve customers. Solve also plans to add functionality for analyzing brand sentiment over a period of time, Mr. Jacoby said.

Solve has 35 employees and has raised $9.5 million to date. The company charges advertisers 30 cents per type-in for its display Captcha ads and 50 cents for type-in ads that allow viewers to skip a pre-roll video ad. It typically splits this ad revenue 50-50 with its publisher partners.

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