John Marshall is president of Burlington, Ont.based Inoventiv Canada Corp., a company that has found a way to overcome one of the most vexing issues of Internet advertising: how do you deal with losing visitors to your site when they click on one of your site sponsor’s ads? Marshall, whose firm is in the process of going public, spoke to Pipeline about how that technology works and what advantages it can offer IT marketers.
Pipeline: Tell me a bit about the evolution of this technology.
John Marshall: I invented it a couple of years ago. I have been an art director in advertising since I was 16. I’ve had my own ad agency for many years. I had the first computer advertising agency in the country, and I launched companies like ATI Technologies. In fact, not only did I launch them, I actually named them. So all the identity logos from ATI are mine. I specialized in launching Canadian technology worldwide. A few years ago the evolution was into online and I started to wonder why, if the Internet was so interactive, you can’t interact and change content in the online ad, rather than jumping from page to page to find it. I evaluated the online ad world and the display branding world, which were always in conflict in the online world. Then I started to think about relevancy of the content, and the evolution of that was search and display, and how people can make the ad more relevant to the individual, rather than taking the behavioural targeted approach, where people kind of assume they know what the Web user is looking for. I filed a patent in 2003, we hope to have notice of allowance shortly, and we’ve started to build working tests. We formally launched it five weeks ago in New York. Then we were in Ad:tech 2005 (recently). We’ve generated tremendous interest from all over the world. One of the organizations was the United Nations. Their issue was they have a lot of online ads throughout the world. If one ad was on some major sponsor’s site, and if someone wanted to click to donate, they would have to leave the page, and go to the world food program site, and that’s taking the Web user away from the sponsor’s page. We solved the problem by allowing people to integrate with the ad and stay on the page. We now have a program running that allows people to answer data inside the ad and do everything inside the ad without leaving the publisher’s site.
We’re also working with a publisher in South America and Spain, and we were approached by Rogers, and by Warner Bros. as well in Los Angeles. Both of those wanted to sell ring tones. Ring tones are a $3-4 billion market in North America. What we’re able to do is let you search in the banner, bring the ring tone back to the banner, have it play in the banner and let you buy in the banner without having to leave the page. So the whole concept of the technology is to qualify people and qualify the content for the Web user without jumping around the Internet.
Pipeline: The press release talks about other potential uses for the technology, such as kind of a virtual help desk or customer service function. Can you talk a bit about that potential?
JM: It’s everything from real estate to jobs to automobiles. When you look for something on the Internet and you go to Google and type in a key word, it gives you usually about two million responses. For the Web user, the first 10 or 20 can be quite valuable, but for the brand, you have no idea what’s inside those organic listings when you search. Our focus is to get the brand to take some of that keyword search marketing away from search portals and put it in to our own keyword search within the brand unit. So the categories are anything. We’re doing a casino in the banner where people can play in the casino inside the banner. The applications are endless if you’ve got the content. We’re talking to a Hollywood studio about even being able to find a movie and show times and a location in the banner without even going anywhere.
Pipeline: Why is this technology important to online advertisers?
JM: Because the issue with online advertising today is to deliver relevant content within the ad to Web users. The dilemma of online marketers is actually how do you reach an individual? How do you capture that relationship? We believe we’re the first people to be able to allow the brand of the marketer to have a one-on-one relationship with every user and not rely on behavioural targeting throughout the Internet. It is a very personal relationship the brand has with the individual by being able to give them exactly what they want.
Pipeline: Is there any particular benefit for IT marketers?
JM: Somebody like ATI has multiple projects in multiple countries so if I’m searching for a RAID 64 I can go into an ATI banner and pull up and search their database and find the product, price and local distribution close to me. So instead of doing a global search on Google, you could have a branded search inside ATI’s banner and find a local dealer and even have a choice of multiple retailers throughout your local area.
Pipeline: Can you elaborate a bit on where you see the online advertising marketplace headed?
JM: The whole market has exploded over the last year or year and a half. Nobody in the industry anticipated the growth in this market. Some of the people said by 2007 the growth will probably reach $18 billion. At ad:tech they’re actually promoting the fact it will probably reach $28 billion. Probably the acceptance of online marketing has been recognizing it is very effective and should be part of a complete media buy. A year ago a few per cent of the budget was being thrown towards it because they weren’t sure. It has now captured the attention of marketers in the industry worldwide – I think the industry is growing at about 30 per cent a year and it’s delivering. A lot of ad revenue is dropping from newspapers and TV and going to online and the reason is people can control and get real-time responses and reporting.
Pipeline: You haven’t pursued the newspaper market. What’s your marketing strategy?
JM: I felt the whole basis for the technology reached the parts that other people didn’t reach. Microsoft said it was the first technology they had seen that not only satisfied the user in delivering relevant content, but the advertiser in delivering the content to the individual user and the publisher, because they remain on the page of the publisher’s site without leaving. The philosophy we have is this technology will be an integral part of delivering that marketing content directly to the individual, and the strategy we have is to partner with third-party ad serving companies and publishers. In fact, we’re talking to two major publishers about being a reseller of our technology. And also to the brands themselves to make their online advertising far more powerful and relevant.