ValueClick Europe CEO Carl White talks about consolidation, integrated marketing, behavioural targeting and the influence of Google.
You’ve been pretty acquisitive over recent months. What’s your view of the consolidation that’s happening in the online ad market?
We’ve made 14 acquisitions ourselves so we’re pretty well-versed in understanding what makes an acquisition successful, and that’s one of the challenges. The size and scale of some of the acquisitions are quite interesting, because it will be quite challenging for those acquisitions to bed into the new companies.
Any particular cases in point?
The thing about Microsoft and Google is that neither have a track record in executing on integration. That’s not to say that either won’t be able to do it very well but there might be a bit of a backlash – internally and externally. Managing those operational issues is a major challenge. Retaining talent and continuing to grow organically is an important issue.
With the size of those acquisitions, you’ve already seen a certain amount of backlash from the publishing community over concentration of data, so for us there are three main issues.
One is data ownership, and one is the potential challenge of disintermediation of the agencies. A lot of the media agencies don’t quite know what Google will do, and I think that is the reason WPP went out and bought 24/7.
Then the other area is conflict of interest – there are going to be some challenges as far as that is concerned with Google and Doubleclick. Doubleclick already has a history on the privacy side of things and Google is under pressure on privacy. There are going to be some conflicts of interest there for advertising and publishers, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
What’s your view of the valuations?
Value, in the end, is what someone is prepared to pay. If Google wants to stop Microsoft, it will pay quite a lot of money to be able to do that. There are strategic reasons why companies cost a certain amount of money.
Do you have concerns about Google’s power?
I think Google is a wonderful organisation and has done an unbelievably good job, but history suggests that when organisations get to a certain size, they get challenged. I don’t think the digital market is any different.
Do you see Google’s move into CPA as a challenge to affiliate networks?
No – quite the opposite. Google, being the size it is, will reinforce the CPA model. There will advertisers that haven’t looked at CPA looking at CPA. It will bring new people into the performance market.
The other thing is we believe Commission Junction is a high-touch business. It isn’t something you can automate – it’s based on knowledge, experience, working with your partners quite closely and bringing the right deals together. From our point of view we see it as a major growth opportunity.
Do you expect more convergence between affiliate and ad network activity?
I think that at the moment, a lot of the differences are around the advertiser relationships. Affiliate marketing relationships are longer term and programme driven, whereas media tends to be more campaign-driven. Often there is an agency involved in the media side, and often not on the affiliate side. In that sense, they are slightly different things.
We are well-placed if they do come together – we have the largest affiliate network in the world and one of the largest media networks in the world. If one were to imagine a world where behavioural targeting became more important, that would put us in a very nice position – particularly as one is driven by actions and sales, and one is driven by CPM and CPC.
Are more of your clients taking an integrated approach to digital marketing?
In terms of planning across all forms of digital media, that’s a very tiny percentage of the advertising community.
In some respects, the way media agencies have been organised has slowed down that process. A lot of the agencies are strong on the media side, but in many cases they have only just resourced search and affiliates and they haven’t resourced mobile. A lot of advertisers that have put their faith in their media agencies have been short-changed in that respect.
However, there are some more forward-thinking agencies thinking across the digital space.
What are you offering advertisers in terms of behavioural targeting?
Behavioural targeting is going to be very important, but I think there’s a lot of talk about it when a lot of what is happening at the moment is only relatively simple re-targeting. Somebody goes onto your network, and it’s a successive serving of ads based on where a user has been.
What we think will be more explosive is action-based behavioural targeting – where a user has bought a product or performed an action. You can imagine a future being not too far away, where we have an affiliate network, where people are performing activities, and a media network, and we will be able to draw the two together and target people based on what they have done.
The thing about behavioural targeting is you need reach, and we have that. One of the challenges for some of the technology companies is that they don’t have reach and they have to partner with other publishers. It’s not their network, so there are challenges as to who owns the data. An advertiser working with us wouldn’t have those challenges.
How are things going with your plans for Shopping.net? What were the reasons behind your move into publishing?
The first stage was to bring the Shopping.net business in-house and manage all of the search engine marketing in-house for it. That was a relatively quick thing.
The next stage was to start launching and re-developing some of the 750 domain names that came with the business. The first one that is coming is the relaunch of classifieds.co.uk, with the goal of being one of the largest classified sites in Britain. We have a roll-out plan for the sites from that portfolio over the next 18 months, such as local.co.uk and dictionary.co.uk. Part of what we will do over that time is to become a publisher ourselves.
It’s part of the broader digital marketing strategy. We aren’t moving away from anything – we are expanding in all directions. What we learned with Pricerunner served the clients that we already pretty well – we do affiliate marketing on Pricerunner and that helps us to understand it from a client perspective.
Any further geographical expansion plans?
We’ve launched Commission Junction successfully in Sweden and the next step is to launch the media business in Sweden, and that’s in process now.
Are UK publishers doing enough to monetise their international audiences?
It’s quite interesting because in many cases, they are only really now waking up to that opportunity. We work with quite a few publishers in monetising that cross-Atlantic traffic, but they are only just realising it.