Questions for WhenU’s Bill Day

Last week was a good one for adware players.

Between WhenU’s smackdown of a trademark infringement finding against it and rumors that Microsoft is in talks to acquire Claria, the news all seemed to point to a less marginalized future for ad-enabled desktop software.

It’s too early to say whether the favorable winds will carry any new ad dollars into these companies’ sails. WhenU CEO Bill Day would clearly like to think so, but he’s satisfied for the moment to revel in the end of his company’s legal entanglements. Commenting on the Claria rumors, Day said the reported acquisition talks signal “a belief that the controversy in the adware space can be navigated.”

ClickZ recently posed a few questions to Day, who was a co-founder and CEO at About.com until 2003. He took the helm at WhenU last October, replacing founder Avi Naider, who stayed on as president.

Q.What do you think of the rumored acquisition talks between Microsoft and Claria?

A.It is symbolic of the strategic value in the space, despite the current controversy. Large companies believe that many more advertising dollars will flow online and that the contextual and behavioral capabilities of software-based advertising are a required component of that trend. It also shows a belief that the controversy in the adware space can be navigated. At WhenU, we are doing that by focusing on the consumer experience and the targeting and delivery of the ads themselves.

Q.What does your winning the trademark suit mean for WhenU going forward? What are you concentrating on now?

A.Advertisers can now be completely comfortable that working with WhenU not only delivers great results, but is also risk free. After three years of winning these decisions in both lower and higher courts, we can close the book on this chapter of our history.

I have recently turned our full attention to being the industry leader in best practices. We are serving fewer but better targeted ads, we provide exceptionally clear notification to users prior to download, and we ensure that our products have minimal impact on users’ machines and are easy to uninstall. We also put a toll free number on the face of all our ads with live customer support.

Q.How are media buyers conceptualizing the strategic place behavioral targeting holds in their buys?

A.Advertisers have been spooked by the spread of bad practices in our space; they are realizing that they need to do their homework and spend carefully to take advantage of the high ROI and brand lift offered by legitimate contextual advertising without risking brand equity.

Many advertisers are now using us for branding campaigns — not just direct marketing campaigns.

Q.Can you comment on the progress of efforts to establish an adware code of conduct, as has been advocated by the Center for Democracy and Technology, Esther Dyson and TRUSTe?

A.These sort of issues are best handled by external parties such as you mention. We work closely with them and look forward to fully backing an industry “code of conduct”, and we expect something to be actionably released from them during the calendar year. At the same time we have also focused on what we can control in the interim. We’ve spent more time implementing best practices (such as putting our toll-free number on every ad), rather than just talking about them or using the fact that a “code of conduct” takes a while to develop as an excuse not to act.

Q.What’s it like helming WhenU?

A.In many ways it’s similar to About.com, which may surprise some people. I think like a publisher; I have a user base and advertisers I work with that want to reach that base because it is highly qualified. I focus on understanding the user’s needs better and putting in place an organization that can deliver new products that better meet those needs as well as investing in our sales process and advertising technology so that it fully reaches its potential.

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