Flashtalking CEO: Math Doesn’t Matter Without The Message

JohnNardone2John Nardone, the newly minted CEO of UK-based ad serving platform Flashtalking, feels like he’s come full circle.

After spending more than 10 years deep in the ad tech weeds, Nardone, whose resumé includes the chief exec role at [x+1] – which sold to Rocket Fuel in August 2014 for around $230 million – and the co-presidency at marketing mix modeling company Marketing Management Analytics, is pleased to be back on the creative side of the fence.

Before DMPs and MMM, Nardone spent the better part of a decade at the helm of Modem Media, an interactive marketing services company that was acquired by Digitas in 2004.

“I’m an analytics geek,” Nardone said. “But I found I missed the creative part of the business.”

So, when a recruiter from Flashtalking got in touch, Nardone took the call. He was already familiar with the company from his [x+1] days when the two collaborated on work for Allstate, Volkswagen, Vonage and others.

Although Nardone had planned to spend more time at Rocket Fuel post-acquisition, in the end six months felt like enough and he accepted the CEO role at Flashtalking. He took the reins in April.

Nardone sees the ad server as a key piece of the ad tech infrastructure, more of a marketing activation platform than a simple delivery platform.

“You need to build the creative assets, pull in the real-time data feeds, build decision trees, deliver those assets in whatever format is necessary for the device and then do reporting on top of all of that,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about activating the consumer by putting compelling messages in front of them.”

Flashtalking has roughly 240 employees spread across offices in London, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cologne in Germany, Amsterdam, Leeds in England, Sydney and New York, where Nardone is based.

In addition to a large number of agency relationships, including a newly inked deal to act at the mobile ad server of record for Starcom MediaVest Group UK, Flashtalking’s client list includes Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, American Express, Verizon, AT&T, Allstate, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, VW, Honda and StubHub.

AdExchanger caught up with Nardone.

AdExchanger: Why move to an ad server?

JOHN NARDONE: Programmatic is naturally moving in the direction of creative. We’ve gone from RTB to DSPs to the DMP and now advertisers are starting to think about data-driven creative. You can have all the analytics and math and marketing segments in the world, but you still need to say something to the consumer.

Our data-driven world puts the ad server at a critical point – the point of truth – because it’s the last point of contact for a consumer’s device. You’re going to see more and more functionality go into the ad server as a single technology, everything from viewability and fraud detection to attribution.

What about media buying?

Do you really want your buying platform to be the arbiter of whether an ad was viewed or effective? I would argue no. To me, the idea of an independent ad server is more natural than shoving the ad server and the DSP together. I’m not, eh, pointing a finger at one enormous company that we all know.

Speaking of that company and others, who do you see as your competition?

We don’t worry about Google because Google is like the air – you can’t escape it and you need it to breathe. We just accept that it’s there. Other than Google we compete with Sizmek as a full ad-serving platform, Celtra for mobile and PointRoll for dynamic creative.

How does Flashtalking differentiate?

We have a set of what I refer to as front-end tools – campaign setup, asset creation, HTML builders, decision trees – but we also have an offering on the back end, as well. Our goal and our focus is to have the analytics and reporting be as strong as the front-end functions.

And what’s the end goal?

I don’t mean to use hyperbole, but a creative revolution is possible. Real-time data feeds allow you to come up with new kinds of creative concepts. If we know that your sports team lost last night, we can use that information to get your attention: “The Yankees lost last night, but you don’t have to.” Or if we know it’s raining where you are, a retailer can show an umbrella for sale rather than a bathing suit.

How is that different from dynamic content optimization?

Although there’s certainly value in testing whether a red, green or blue background performs better, it’s much more interesting to think about communicating with a consumer in the same way you might approach someone at a cocktail party. When you walk up to someone at a party and start a conversation, it might be about anything. You find a common ground, establish simpatico and take the conversation from there.

The same thing can be true about advertising. You can think of it as the difference between a clumsy pickup line and a more skilled one.

Is there any plan to change the company name now that the era of Flash is pretty much over?

That comes up all the time, especially as browsers are not automatically playing Flash ads anymore. But in my experience, you only change your name when you have to get away from something. We have a positive reputation with the folks we work with and there’s a lot of history and brand equity in our name. Flash as a technology is no longer at the center of what we do, but we don’t feel compelled to change it. Of course, this is the perspective of a guy who used to work at a company called Modem Media well into the 2000s.

Can you share any color around what’s happening at Rocket Fuel?

They have some very powerful technology and it works. People on the outside sometimes doubt that because Rocket Fuel spent a lot of money on marketing. They think it’s just hype. Frankly, I thought that as well, being on the outside. [But] the AI and the original engine that George [John, former CEO] developed is really different. It tackles the challenge of media optimization in a different and powerful way.

That said, Rocket Fuel has been challenged by communicating that value over the years. As much as they spent on marketing, people still haven’t believed it to a large extent. I hope that as the new CEO joins, that person is a really good communicator who can better articulate the value of the technology they have there.

1 Comment

  1. Benjamin

    I always knew them as a Dynamic / RM company. I dont know of any major client who uses them as a primary adserver.

    Reply

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