BlueKai Moves to Certify Data Bought Through Its Exchange

Media buyers are still getting used to the idea that the ad impressions they buy and the data used to target those ads can come from different sources. BlueKai, Quantcast, Media6degrees, and retargeting networks like Fetchback and Dapper are among the companies letting advertisers filter bulk impressions using a range of data — be it purchase data, behavioral targeting data bought from ad networks, or something else.

Yet these firms’ targeting methods are not always understood by agencies. And that may be hampering the nascent marketplace for data sold separately.

At least it is for BlueKai, which has set up a program to certify its purchase intent data for sale through portals, ad networks, and other sellers. The program aims to ease a burdensome process while preserving the integrity of BlueKai’s data, the company and its agency customers say.

“This is where the market’s going,” said Marta Martinez, SVP of corporate partnerships at media agency Havas Digital. “Media and data are decoupled, and you can buy them separately and create audiences that are most valuable to you.”

BlueKai is fairly unique among the purveyors of data in that it does not sell inventory directly. Rather it allows marketers to create custom audience segments and reach prospects by matching those audience segments to available inventory from portals and ad networks. However the process can be cumbersome, and can create conflicts between BlueKai and its media partners — which can both wind up selling the same pool of information to the same advertisers. That creates a problem for ad networks, which want to sell the data to advertisers directly.

The certification program allows media buyers to create custom segments on BlueKai’s exchange, and then export those segments to participating ad sellers — firms like Yahoo and Tribal Fusion. The segment is submitted to the publisher or ad network, which presents the advertiser with a comprehensive proposal for all media and data costs and handles all reporting.

For instance, an ad agency representing Chrysler could work with BlueKai to create a customized segment of in-market car buyers who have shopped for minivans in the past week. The media planner might then export that segment to two of its preferred media partners, such as Microsoft Media Network and Advertising.com. Those networks would then work directly with the agency to complete the buy.

Under the new certification system, BlueKai does not sell data directly to advertisers or agencies.

BlueKai CEO Omar Tawakol likens the approach to Intel’s “Intel Inside” labeling system for its microprocessors. “We sell the processor with the computer, and we make sure we can create a stamp,” he said.

Havas is one of several agencies already on board with the program. Martinez said working with certified BlueKai data will ease friction in the buying process for BlueKai’s agency partners.

“Working with exchanges is a process agencies are still learning,” she said. “What BlueKai is doing with the certification program is…making it easier for media buyers to procure that data. It removes a lot of the operational complexity of being able to use that data so they can scale faster.”

By certifying its data, BlueKai is also addressing a significant branding issue for the company. According to Tawakol, some ad networks have wrongly claimed an affiliation with BlueKai.

“Some ad networks were buying data and everybody was happy, but some who weren’t working with us — they’d say they had our data and they didn’t,” he said.

Of course, by certifying its data, BlueKai is protecting only itself from unscrupulous media sellers. The need to validate data is bigger than one company. According to Havas’ Martinez, the ideal outcome for advertisers would be the establishment of an industry-wide standard for creating and exporting custom audience segments, regardless of the seller.

“Ultimately, standards help to scale,” she said. “But I don’t think you’re going to see that in the short term.”

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