Drive Steers aQuantive Into Tracking Behavior for Ads

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Online advertising company aQuantive quietly joined the behavior-targeting fray with an initiative that lets advertisers target audience segments based partly on tracking of user behavior across Web sites.


Seattle-based aQuantive began the initiative, called Drive, four months ago to address the issue of wasted online ad inventory -- ads served to the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time.


In its Performance Program, Drive buys ad space on an impression basis from 20 to 30 of the 200 most visited Web publishers, which it declined to name. It then operates an auction that sells cost-per-action "bounties" to advertisers looking to reach specific audiences.


In its Selector Program, Drive tracks Web user behavior through aQuantive's Atlas DMT ad server, enabling it to record a visitor's prior site behavior, geographic location, modem speed and likely income based on geographic location. It then matches user profiles with the characteristics advertisers are looking for in customers. These ads are charged on a CPM basis.


"We're a liaison between publisher and advertiser," said Scott Howe, Drive's general manager and a five-year veteran of aQuantive. "We're trying to make the right connections.


"In some sense, we run a dating service," he said.


The effort by aQuantive comes as 24/7 Real Media makes a big push into behavior targeting, joining the likes of Revenue Science and Tacoda Systems. Like 24/7 Real Media, aQuantive's ad server gives it access to vast amounts of Web surfer information that can be tracked and used to compile audience segments. Drive combines such behavioral information with demographic and other data.


"If you just do targeting based on behavior, it's going to give you some lift," Howe said. "If you start to combine that with other variables, it's going to give you significantly more lift."


24/7 and aQuantive stress that all Web surfing information is collected anonymously, from cookies placed on a user's computer, and is not combined with any personal information.


"We ensure that everything is relevant but nothing is identifiable," Howe said. All Web sites feeding data to Drive through the ad server disclose this in their privacy policies, he said. Users also can register at Atlas DMT's Web site to receive a so-called blank cookie that does not transmit any information to Atlas DMT. 24/7 Real Media does the same, as mandated by the Network Advertising Initiative, which counts both companies as members.


"We're trying to take a really high-end approach to this," Howe said. "We're very choosy with the advertisers and publishers we're working with."


Howe declined to name publishers or advertisers using Drive, citing competitive concerns. He said Drive works with about 50 advertisers and agencies, including aQuantive's Avenue A.


"The biggest complaint is not enough inventory," he said.


Howe said Drive hopes to take the advantages of search marketing -- guaranteed return on investment, transparent pricing and targeted offers -- and apply them to online advertising. Though the initiative is still small, he expects it to grow, perhaps even to where it eventually becomes an aQuantive operating unit alongside Atlas DMT, Avenue A and iFrontier.


"Our plans are to move cautiously," he said. "I'm glad this seems to be the flavor of the year. Accountability is good for the industry."


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