Tapad Brings Ad Retargeting To Mobile, And $1.8 Million From Powerhouse Investors

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One of the best-performing technologies in online advertising right now is retargeting—everyone from Google to startups are making bank from it. That’s when you browse the Web and are shown an ad from a site you’ve visited in the past. The clickthroughs are much higher than a random display ad. Now, a New York City startup called Tapad is bringing retargeting to mobile devices.

Tapad was founded by Are Traasdahl, who previously was the founder and CEO of mobile entertainment company Thumbplay. He’s raised $1.8 million from Metamorphic Ventures, Firstmark Capital, Lerer Ventures, and a Who’s Who of ad tech angel investors, including former DoubleClick CEO David Rosenblatt, Clickable CEO David Kidder, 24/7 Real Media co-founder Geoff Judge, AppNexus founder (and former Right Media CTO) Brian O’Kelly, Tacoda founder Dave Morgan, OpenX founder Scott Switzer, Hashable (and former Quigo) CEO Michael Yavonditte, and SecondMarket CEO Barry Silbert. Yeah, that’s a hell of a list of entrepreneurs who created some of the most valuable online advertising companies of the last decade.

Why the excitement? Mobile retargeting is really hard. The browsers on Apple products like the iPhone and iPad blocks third-part cookies by default, creating a huge blind spot for advertisers. Tapad works on Android right now, and will launch support for Apple iOS devices sometime next week.

Tapad has come up with a method to retarget ads in both mobile browsers and mobile apps, so that if you visit a mobile Website and then open up an app, you might see an ad from that site in the app. The company has been testing its system for about 6 months with half a dozen advertisers. “We cover 8 to 10 billion mobile impressions a month across the mobile web and apps,” says Traasdahl.

In order to make retargeting work on mobile phones and tablets, Tapad does more than just place cookies in your browser. For Apple devices, the cookies only work during a session, so it must use other signals such as the device signature as well as the network ID where it is getting online. If it sees an Android phone hit a Website and then an app from the same Wifi network in the space of a few minutes, the chances are that it is the same user are high. Tapad supplements this with data from websites and app publishers that have dual login systems for the mobile Web and apps, all of which is sold on an aggregate, anonymous basis. For the most part, Tapad tries to nail down users by the devices they use rather than personally identifiable information. All they really care about is being able to retarget someone who used an app or visited a mobile website when they show up somewhere else.

So far Traasdahl says Tapad advertisers are seeing early clickthrough improvements “similar to retargeting numbers online—from 50% to 150% lift. But we still have to run it on a huge scale.” Each impression is sold through a realtime bidding mechanism, similar to what Admeld does online (Google just bought Admeld for $400 million).

Tapad is just getting started. So are the ways that ads get targeted to mobile users. And you thought you could escape by go mobile.