Rock Star Money, on the Cheap

I used to go to an upscale hair salon in Montreal. It had a guaranteed long wait. Inevitably, I’d find myself in a plush leather chair in the welcome area, waiting for the staff to catch up. The place stocked the usual women’s magazines, but it also has “Robb Report,” so I became intimately familiar with the publication. So when Marchex Inc. announced this week its contextual advertising company IndustryBrains is now powering ads for the CurtCo Robb Media family of luxury properties, including, I couldn’t help but take interest.

The online luxury market has always been a tough nut to crack. Although demand among advertisers, such as watchmakers, travel clients, and wealth management firms, has been high, it seems to have taken ages for elite publications to make their way on to the Web. Now that they have, often the results haven’t lived up to expectations.

If they feature enough content to merit a media buy, ad space is rarely available on a pay-for-performance basis. I suppose the idea is if the featured gadgets are pricey, the ads should be, too.

Now IndustryBrains is allowing advertisers to buy PPC (define) content-targeted ads on the mother of all online luxury magazines. “This opens some great opportunities for media buyers, provided that their clients are a fit with such high-end outlets,” says Mark Peterson of parent company Marchex. “It’s the highly targeted essence of contextual advertising, matching high-end advertisers with specific publishers who seek them and vice versa.” The ads, he says, are already appearing in select site sections, including home, hotels, and resorts.

In keeping with a tradition that goes back to the company’s 2002 launch, ad placements not only are priced by performance but are also transparent to give advertisers greater control over their ad exposure. If you read last week’s column, you’ll know this is a treat. Normally, content-targeted sponsored links are placed blind. Most networks’ technology platforms do a good job of matching the ad content to that on the site page, but most advertisers would prefer to know where their messages are being displayed. Companies like Quigo private-label their solution for better site integration and publisher control, but the buyer is still well aware of her placement.

IndustryBrains recognized the value media buyers (and publishers) place on this feature early on. The company’s ads, also private label, appear on a number of top-tier sites, including, ITtoolbox, and There are over 100 brand name sites in its contextual ad network. In addition to Robb Report, the recent CurtCo Media deal also put IndustryBrains’ ads on Worth, The Robb Report Collection, and a handful of other online magazines about the good life.

Self-described as luxury lifestyle publication sites certainly aren’t the only avenues through which to reach this type of audience. Affluent consumers can be found just about anywhere online these days, including on blogs and consumer electronic resources. The über-affluent ones tend to reside on business and finance sites. Between shopping for their next private jet and island rental, they need to clock a few hours of work, after all.

That said, the agreement between IndustryBrains and CurtCo facilitates access to this audience in a place where their attention, and the size of their pocketbooks, are all but guaranteed. When an advertiser wants a hand at attracting rock star money, Robb Report is traditionally one of the first calls a buyer makes. Of course, even advertisers with sizeable budgets need efficiencies in place for spending their budgets.

The pairing of content-targeted ads and luxury sites is a testament to the value that’s increasingly being placed on contextually targeted advertising. The luxury market is the very picture of media conceit, yet it has opened its doors to simple sponsored listings. Will advertisers give up banners reminiscent of glossy print ads to see their message in unadorned text form? If that text ad sells watches, you bet they will.

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