After a year existing as a retargeting API feature within ad-exchange operator AppNexus' system of technology tools, AdExtent says it is launching an independent version of its retargeting offering with a particular focus of augmenting Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) own solutions.
In addition to AppNexus, the company is working with MediaMath, Turn and Google's DoubleClick Bid Manager (was Invite Media) and is stressing the self-service flexibility of its system. AdExtent's timing coincides with the increasing use of retargeting in desktop display advertising and the interest in unlocking new marketplaces such as Facebook Exchange and Twitter's offering.
"The growth of DSPs, social and publishers' expansion into integrated marketing solutions have helped promote the growth of a new set of companies around retargeting," said Tal Keinan, AdExtent's CEO and founder. "Over the past year, we've worked to scale AdExtent to support many more campaigns and to provide more control to clients. Right now, none of the DSPs provide a full, built-in solution for retargeting. We want to be available to media buyers who use multiple DSPs, and yet not be constricted in how they retarget."
AdExtent, which has offices in Tel Aviv and New York, believes marketers and agencies will feel more comfortable pursuing retargeting in concert with their DSPs. In essence, the company is more like a white-labeling service, giving DSPs a retargeting capability they don't already have in-house.
While DSPs have the general capabilities to do retargeting on their own, an AdExtent representative contends that "dropping a homepage pixel and showing a creative to viewer of pixel does not a high perfomance retargeting campaign make."
DSPs don't have the ability to quickly pull together dynamic creative ( or, "product ads"), which Keinan said AdExtent let buyers do in minutes -- with or without a product feed -- through its dynamic creative wizard. This is the biggest thing most DSPs don't have in-house, he said.
On top of that, AdExtent said it can segment each website visitor and define the logic of which type of creative, product, or category they should see in the retargeting creative. "For example, visitors to the homepage should get static creative X, visitors to the flights category should get top 10 flights from their destination, and visitors to the hotel category should get the last hotel they viewed," Keinan said. "The ability to define the logic of how the product is chosen to go in the ad is something unique to a retargeting platform like AdExtent, and a DSP simply doesn't have visibility into the product catalog to make those types of decisions."
Greg Williams, MediaMath's co-founder and SVP for its OPEN Partnerships program, said he will try to forge a close relationship with AdExtent over the next few months. AdExtent will be linked with MediaMath's Marketing Operating System, TerminalOne.
"AdExtent’s dynamic creative and retargeting capabilities align very well as a solution within our marketing platform, further enhancing our core capabilities of data management, and algorithmic decisioning across mass-media scale," he said. "This partnership will further strengthen the ability for marketers to deliver the right ad to the right consumer at the right time."
The issue of how dynamic creative is used with retargeting has become worrisome for some marketers. "It all comes down to the level of control the DSP, the agency and the marketer have in when to use dynamic creative and on what terms" said Chris Stevens, VP of marketing at online travel site Orbitz Worldwide.
Orbitz has used a variety of retargeting offerings and has worked with AdExtent over the past year. Stevens expressed frustration with the mystery and lack of transparency that often surrounds retargeting campaigns, but he gave AdExtent high marks for addressing some of his company's concerns around the issue of ensuring the separation of retargeting from decisions about dynamic creative, the automated creation of a personalized ad unit aimed at the consumer being retargeted.
"What's happened in retargeting the last couple years is that it's gone through a series of weird evolutions," Stevens said. "There was 'dynamic creative,' which was separate from retargeting, which was separate from media.
"At one point, the companies that did dynamic creative were snapped up by other companies, and then folded into media products. Then, you didn't have a choice but to buy the media from the company that was doing the dynamic creative. At the same time, the liquidity of the auctions expanded and made it a lot easier to buy the media independently. One of the valuable things about AdExtent is that it is independent – and it's one of the few that are."
Automating the creative and making it part of the total retargeting package promises clear efficiencies and real-time speed. But it can also result in a marketing message that seems more like one size fits all, as opposed to a truly original, creative ad. At the moment, marketers either have to have their own internal dynamic creative technology, or they simply have to trust the retargeter.
Part of the reason AdExtent separates out the dynamic creative function is that the company charges on a CPM basis, as opposed to a CPC basis like most other retargeters.
Still, one question that remains elusive in Stevens' eyes isn't just how well retargeting works -- it's how it doesn't work.
"I do believe it's effective in general. I also believe that when people are using good statistical methods, they will find that there are segments of their users who it adversely impacts. Buyers should not presume that all retargeting results in a positive lift. It's annoying to some people, especially if it's instrumented poorly and you go to a website and, for the next month, all you see are ads from the same company."
As AdExtent and its rivals attract more attention, the winners will be able to answer Stevens' big questions: "Did the retargeting negatively affect the customer? Did it lead to the likelihood that they deleted their cookies?"
AdExtent said it believes it can come close to satisfying that question.
The company claims it can score each website visitor by their likelihood to convert.
"Some website visitors aren't worth retargeting to at all, and some are worth paying a lot for," an AdExtent rep said. "AdExtent's technology can make bid recommendations -- either through a multiplier to the bid price or by segmenting into several buckets for the DSP -- that make the campaign a lot more efficient."