Targeting distinguishes AdForce from the pack

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Adforce has come a long way since 1994, when it was founded as Imgis and its goal was to build a global real estate registry service.

The company will likely be the next ad-serving provider to file for an initial public offering, joining DoubleClick, 24/7 Media and NetGravity. At deadline, it was on the verge of filing documents with the Securities & Exchange Commission.

AdForce, which changed its company name to match its product name last year, serves 1 billion ad impressions a month for clients including 2Can Media, Netscape Communications Corp., GeoCities and 24/7.

Since launching AdForce for Advertisers last August, the company has signed Modem Media-Poppe Tyson, Westport, Conn., and Magnet Interactive, Washington, among others.

Agencies now account for about 12% of AdForce's business.


AdForce operates solely as a centralized ad management company, servicing clients who use its scheduling program to place ads and manage inventory. Unlike DoubleClick, it doesn't maintain an ad sales force. And it doesn't sell software to Web sites, as NetGravity does.

AdForce says its relationship with credit reporting company Experian, an investor, gives it better ad targeting capabilities than its competition.

"We're the only player that has an agreement with a data provider like we have with Experian," says AdForce CEO Chuck Berger.

AdForce uses aggregated Experian data to target advertising.

AdForce's targeting experience could lead to development of a new business unit focused on market research, Mr. Berger says, though no formal plans have been announced yet.

In the meantime, the company's main goal will be to win clients with its service-bureau approach and targeting capabilities.


"One of their strengths is focusing on the back-end service model," says Alan Thompson, advertising product manager at PointCast, which hired AdForce last fall to serve ads for its Web site EntryPoint.

"It took no more than three or four days to architect the back-end" database, Mr. Thompson adds.

Netscape recently made AdForce its primary ad server for Netcenter, bumping NetGravity to a minor role. And America Online, which took a minority stake in AdForce last year, has committed to using AdForce's system in the future, though there's no timetable.


Those wins should help offset the probable loss of 24/7, which accounts for an estimated 15% of AdForce's monthly impressions. 24/7 expects to migrate to its own ad-serving system, AdFinity, by the second half of this year, according to a recent SEC filing. AdForce is currently negotiating to remain a supplier to 24/7, Mr. Berger says.

Hoover's Online, a smaller client, is also looking at alternative ad-serving solutions, says Joe McWilliams, ad sales manager.

Hoover's signed AdForce nearly a year ago based on its targeting capabilities, Mr. McWilliams says, but hasn't found the system to be as stable as he would like it to be.

Copyright March 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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