It's Come to This: Start-Up Bills Itself the 'Anti-DoubleClick'Kieran Clifford thinks it's a great time to go into business as an Internet ad network. And he cites help from an unlikely source.
"Frankly, DoubleClick has helped us here," said Clifford, co-founder/CEO of WinWin.com. "Now people are suddenly becoming aware that their data is the most valuable commodity on the Internet."
Starting next month, Clifford's Boston-based venture will give consumers 20 percent of the money advertisers pay for banners on the WinWin network. Web sites carrying the ads will take between 50 percent to 70 percent. WinWin will get the rest.
The company calls itself the "anti-DoubleClick" not because it will serve ads without using consumers' personal data - on the contrary, WinWin hopes to build a database loaded with individuals' product preferences. But unlike DoubleClick, Clifford said, WinWin will pay consumers for the right to target them.
"We are in an environment right now where the consumer is powerful and immensely valuable, and particularly their information. However they're treated in most ... situations as some kind of passive victim. Somebody to be bombarded or have their data traded left or right," he said.
No. 1 ad network DoubleClick took a well-publicized beating last month over company plans to link personal data gathered through the Net to offline consumer data gathered by its Abacus Direct unit. This month DoubleClick CEO Kevin O'Connor called the plans a "mistake," and the New York company shelved the move.
As the WinWin system is planned, the company will design questions that Web sites in its network can pose to their visitors. An auto site, for example, may choose to ask visitors the kind of cars they drive. Consumers who answer will then get the WinWin pitch: Sign up with us and we'll reward you for viewing targeted ads.
Consumers register their names and addresses and select how they'd like to get paid either by check, direct deposit, through an online currency program or via donations to charity. As they answer more questions at network sites, their WinWin profile grow. People can look up their files whenever they want to amend or delete information.
Sixty sites have signed on so far. Without any marketing www.winwin.com has accumulated a few thousand profiles since March 1, and Clifford claims consumers are turning over an average of 21 pieces of data on themselves. Initial advertising is slated for April 16.
If the system comes together as Clifford hopes it does, it will be nothing if not targeted. Rather than advertising across categories of sites, businesses will go to the WinWin site and select the characteristics they want in their shoppers. Hypothetically, Clifford said, an Italian restaurant in Boston could target people in the city who like the Red Sox and Napa Valley wines. The likely pitch? Come by Luigi's after the Sox game and get a free California cabernet.
Such advertising won't be cheap. Advertisers will pay $1 for each person who clicks through a banner to their sites, or 50 cents for people who run their mouse across the banner without clicking. If there's no interaction, WinWin plans to charge a few cents for every thousand impressions.
Clifford said the network is designed to spring its banners only for registered users, and sites will still be able to run ads off other servers. Banners will bear the WinWin name, but advertisers will load their own banner designs onto the WinWin site. The company built its own technology for detecting mouse arrow interaction.
GE Equity is WinWin's main source of funding.