Questions for Starcom’s Rishad Tobaccowala

Rishad Tobaccowala

Rishad Tobaccowala is all about “passion-based” marketing. The founder of Starcom IP and chief innovation officer of Publicis Groupe sees a future in which all media is consumed on demand, so he reasons successful campaign planning of the future must be based primarily on user interest.

Through partnerships with companies like Yahoo, ESPN and Discovery Networks, Tobaccowala says Starcom is positioning itself to be the media planning agency of the future. The firm is trying to out-plan other agency behemoths by hooking into user passions while they’re being expressed.

“Once you have five big fat gorillas running around, it’s the intelligent gorilla, not the one who weighs five pounds more, that wins,” he said.

The consumer interest principle is also behind his affinity for behavioral targeting platforms like Tacoda and Revenue Science, whose board he joined last week.

ClickZ caught up with Tobaccowala last week to discuss his routine, and what he hopes to gain from his new link to Revenue Science.

Q.Describe a typical day in the life of Rishad Tobaccowala.

A.Usually it’s spent on a plane. This year I’ve done 102 flights and spent 93 nights in a hotel room. I meet with lots of different people, potential partners and clients.

I also meet with my colleagues at SMG, trying to decide how we’re going to stay on top of this fast changing marketplace, making sure the three or four things that separate us are going to remain in place.

Q.Which are?

A.We are planning-focused. Our heritage doesn’t come from buying; our heritage comes from planning. Once you have five big fat gorillas running around, it’s the intelligent gorilla, not the one who weighs five pounds more, that wins.

Q.What’s the big trend in media planning?

A.Passion-based marketing is a big part of where the future is. In the future, a majority of your media experience will be on demand. You are only going to ask for the things that you are interested in or passionate about. The passion can be negative. If someone in your family is ill, it could be something you really don’t want, but you’re going to ask for it anyway.

Q.How does this fit in with branded content?

A.Branded content happens to be a subset of this. The problem of branded content is that it starts with brands and ends with content. Who the shit cares about brands and content? I’d rather talk about consumer experience.

All the talk about Madison & Vine is fine, but we have to make some changes to the organization first. Hopefully that works. If it doesn’t, we’ll all write blogs.

Q.What do you like about Revenue Science?

A.They have a way to allow brand marketers to engage people at very compelling sites, based on the individual behaviors and interests. In effect, it allows people to do media targeting based on media behavior. Normally you’ve been able to do media targeting based on other things, such as demographics or previous purchase interests.

The second thing I like is they have an amazing list of publishers they work with, amazing brand names in verticals that are very interesting and important. They have ESPN and The Wall Street Journal. In the automotive area, they have Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book and Autobytel. In key verticals, they have the keys sites.

Third, they’re a very smart group of people. I like being around smart people because it helps me become smarter.

The very positive thing about this model is it allows publishers to monetize and get paid for the content they create. If they don’t get paid, they won’t make content.

Q.Do you see any problems with behavioral targeting?

A.There are so many things that go under the moniker of behavioral targeting. People say search is behavioral targeting, spyware is behavioral targeting, and companies like Tacoda and Revenue Science are behavioral targeting.

The disadvantage now is that it’s such a wide term that it includes [too many possible definitions].

The pop-up people and the spyware people, they all have interesting products and models, but what I particularly like about Revenue Science is the ads that appear do not need to know who you are. The ads do not pop up, pop over, pop under. It’s like normal advertising you would see anywhere else, but instead of being just any ad, it will be more tailored to your interests.

But the good and the bad are sometimes mashed together.

Q.Will they pick up business through their link to Starcom?

A.No. Revenue Science sells through publishers. I’m added because to a great extent, models like theirs are the future of all marketing, including digital marketing. Also, Starcom will align themselves with intelligence. In the future, media behavior will be the way to target media. Guess what? Revenue Science is one of the companies that does this.

The reality is we have to be completely solution-neutral. We can’t align ourselves with any one [platform].

The advantage is I’ll bring to them what our clients are wanting. It’s very important. They already know what publishers want. They’ve got technologists on their board. In effect, I’m serving as sort of an agent for our clients.

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