Tapad Brings Retargeting to Phones, Tablets, But Marketers Aren't Talking

Using Methods Other Than Tracking Cookies to Link Devices And Users

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One big growth area of display advertising is retargeting, which is popular with online retailers that want to get ads in front of consumers who've abandoned a shopping cart or otherwise left their site. Aggressive retargeting means you might see a lot of one ad from, for example, Bonobos, making it feel as if the internet knows where you've been (because it does).

Such ads will soon be following you to a smartphone, a tablet, or both -- a technological hurdle, as so-called cookie-tracking can't happen across different devices.

When we last wrote about Tapad, in September, the New York startup was busy helping advertisers retarget consumers within mobile phones, producing a $20 million revenue run-rate in the process. Tapad has since been working in beta on expanding the offering to help advertisers reach the same consumer across multiple screens: personal computers, cellphones and tablets. The company is releasing the technology out of beta today.

Because cookie-targeting doesn't work across screens, Tapad looks at other available signals, such as data from publisher partners, advertisers or Wi-Fi connections. CEO Are Traasdahl won't provide more information than that on the methodology. We'll give him a pass, given the rush of companies looking to create similar offerings.

Mr. Traasdahl said that five clients are running campaigns across three screens and that they're getting higher response rates and lower cost-per-acquisition numbers. But none of these marketers will talk to the press, according to Tapad. This isn't totally surprising; many big brands are reluctant to be transparent about the lengths to which they go to follow consumers around the web, let alone across multiple devices.

But at its best, retargeting can push consumers back to an online shopping cart they abandoned and a purchase they meant to complete. As a result, there's still considerable money flowing to retargeting companies, with click-through rates that are often considerably higher than ads that aren't retargeted.

Other big players in the space include Criteo, a Paris-based company that 's making a big push for business in the U.S. led by Greg Coleman, former HuffPo president, as well as U.S.-based companies TellApart and AdRoll. At the same time, some big publishers are trying to cut out a number of these digital-ad-market middlemen. Late last year, for example, Yahoo banned Criteo and TellApart from buying Yahoo inventory on the Right Media Exchange as the company looked to curtail the reselling of its ad space and get a more direct line with advertisers.

Tapad is working to bring its cross-platform targeting to TV (a holy grail for many companies), Mr. Traasdahl said, adding that he hopes to bring the capability to that market later this year.

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