Skip Brand is CEO of Martini Media, an online ad network targeting "affluent" audience. Martini Media recently raised $13 million to "continue commercializing its proprietary analytics, targeting products, differentiated multimedia and social media formats." Read the release.
He shared insights about his company and the ad industry at-large in an interview with AdExchanger.com.
AdExchanger.com: What's still working about the ad network model?
SB: I'd say if you're a vertical and it's an audience like the $100k+ person at work or at play, then you exist because it's a differentiation - particularly if you look at the single share of voice and performance from a click‑through and buying standpoint, or performance from a brand-lift standpoint. It is this type of inventory that ends up being the game changer.
Does Martini Media have its own demand‑side platform? Is audience buying a part of what you do?
Well, we did launch in late Q3 what we called Martini Live. That is our private exchange. We believe there has been a lack of brand buyers on the exchange. We believe in the rising star IAB ad units like the Portrait. Companies like AOL are having a tough time offering a single share of voice with rich media ads. We believe those ads should not only be premium-sold, but in order to better vertically-scale, we believe there should be a rich media exchange for that type of inventory as well.
So, you're aggregating your network of publishers to create effectively an opportunity for other demand‑siders to buy from your network?
Correct. On the flipside, the demand coming from the advertising side - their interest is scale so it's great that we have a niche audience [at scale].
Do you also buy from exchanges?
We do some of that. But, remember that for us, it takes 1,000 sites to equal 90 million uniques - which we have. We kick out more sites than we add in. So what makes us unique as a media network is we don't just want reach. We kick them out because maybe they don't have mobile, video or they don't have rich media abilities.
If we are able to find that $100k+ audience on our own network, we can amplify it if the advertiser or the agency wants us to. That ability to amplify is to find it on other contextual sites, as well as sites where we deem you can find $100K+ audience. We call that, Got Martini. Obviously, there are affluent folks or prosumers elsewhere. If the agency or the client wants us to help find that, we're definitely able to do that either through the exchange or through amplifying, whether they are site buys or through OAS.
Would you say there's some differentiation happening with the technology that Martini provides? Or is it more around services and skills?
It's a bit of both. But on the technology front, what we need to do to take best advantage of the custom vertical we have is provide more automated tools to vertically scale. So we not only have pixels on all of our publisher pages such that we're able to collect data from them, but we'll use the ad tag and pixel so we can automatically deliver. It truly is the technology that allows smaller and more passionate sites to now be able to serve the same ads as a portal. We’re also developing a GRP score because it's not just important to know the performance, brand lift and social [lift], but important that you are in fact capturing the audience that you want - that can afford your product, spend the most and share the most. We like where the technology is and we're able to infuse it in these small sites sometimes better than some of the bigger portals or networks [can do on their own].
Let's talk a bit about “big ads” and I’m referencing intiatives such as Aol’s Project Devil. What are your thoughts about creating an ad network opportunity of "big ads?"
For us, we call our strategy, Double Devil because we believe we have twice the amount of inventory that AOL does. That's exactly what we are able to do across our network.
We reach out to these engaged publishers with their small user base and teach them that it makes sense to have a single share of voice. With the Portrait format, we are able to secure more than $30 million of inventory today. Over 350 of our 1,000 publishers are able to run it. The opportunity is to advertise with impact. It is being able to scale what typically was the best of the traditional digital sites - such as single share of voice in the richest media possible: The New York Times, Hearst, Wall Street Journal and Forbes. They're just now getting around to it. For me, I compete with them. All I have to do is out‑innovate sooner than them. It's in my best interest to do that because these CPMs are north of $20, approaching above $30.
Let's touch a bit on your company’s recent funding. First question is – what do you plan on using the latest $13 million for?
We raised less than $20 million total and we've done three rounds. Our plans for the $13 million is to scale the business. Typically, the first scaling is horizontally. So the horizontal scaling is the rich media, rich data and richest insights. With that is a movement to these rich media exchanges and making sure we have more video and mobile available. So that's our horizontal move because this audience does have 500 percent growth in smartphones, iPads and all of that.
Second, we want to vertically scale which means technology and investing in our engineering and product teams rather than our premium sales teams. We’re looking to keep our organization flat, or near flat growth, but invest more in the technology. That's why you saw us playing with Martini Live in the exchange because we'd like to educate and tell people that there is rich media available out there and great inventory that you can't find anywhere else. The best way to vertically scale is to do more, not only on the CPM side, but to do more on the CPL side and with the technology. Then, the third aspect was buying a company at the same time, called TDP to serve our interests in geographic scaling and we’ve opened an office in London.
Which format is the one that you see growing the most in the near term - video, display or mobile?
I'd start with three things. The richer the media, the better you do. But those characteristics of rich media can be video, or video on a mobile device like an iPad. What's most important is you want to remove the clutter so that the user is engaged and where media is more of a single share of voice. That's where TV ads work well. You don't have to worry if you bought a Super Bowl ad, because when it's your time, it's your time.
There is going to be a push back to sell less ads, but they'll get richer. I also believe that mobile tablets, not just smartphones ‑ will allow us to have a much better interface because it is your fingers with sight, sound, and motion. Anytime there's sight, sound and motion, the idea of touching is quite interesting when it comes to what you can do with an ad.
My belief is we'll finally personalize the ads a lot more. For example, if I know I'm talking to pilots, there's no reason a plane shouldn't be in the background of a car ad. There's no reason that you shouldn't acknowledge the pilot. I believe that personalization will help. And around that will be more of a value exchange. If there isn't a value exchange, it just won't be accepted as much.
Finally, the mix of Silicon Valley and New York - the best mix of traditional and innovation - will be great. Otherwise, we're just expecting too much from traditional players to innovate and expecting too much of the startsups to innovate without the traditional partnerships.
Any trends you see today from agency trading desks and what is your expectation, given your private exchange in the next year or two, for agency trading desks?
They’re becoming more of a partner. Agencies can't fight automation. So, automation now exists in the agencies, thanks to their trading desks and the ability to see real‑time performance.
When agency trading desks add buying data and begin to differentiate, I think we'll see the most innovation in that space.
By John Ebbert