"If you stop someone on the street and ask, 'Do advertisers respect you?' the average person is going to say, 'No, not at all: They try to interrupt; they try to get in my way,'" says Scott Kurnit, founder of AdKeeper. "The very simple act of 'keeping for later' introduces a level of respect into advertising."
In the face of increasing pressure from legislators, this sort of respect for consumers is one that Madison Avenue may be eager to ferment.
AdKeeper, a startup that lets consumers keep an online file of ads to which they'd like to return, announced Monday that it has raised $35 million in a Series B round of financing. The company, currently in private beta, came out of stealth in October and expects to fully launch to the public as soon as February with a group of advertisers that includes AT&T, Ford and McDonald's.
Oak Investment Partners led the latest round of funding, with Series A investor DCM significantly increasing its stake, according to AdKeeper, although Oak has a majority stake. Other investors include Spark Capital, First Round Capital, Lerer Ventures, and The New York Times Company. AdKeeper raised $8 million in an A round in March, so this round brings the total to $43 million. "I learned my lesson from the About days to raise more than I need to," says Kurnit, a cofounder of About.com. "We went out to raise $15 million," he says, but the company has finished the round with twice that, effectively taking fundraising risk off the table, according to Kurnit.
The next phase of operation will involve educating the public about the keeper utility. "This is a true ecosystem play," says Kurnit. And if it's going to work, it has to work fast.
AdKeeper technology marks participating advertisers' online display ads with a small "K" button embedded in the ad. When clicked, the service "keeps" the ad for a consumer to view later, akin to Instapaper for ads. The service is cookie-based, so a consumer need not even register to use it (although, of course, registration allows them to port ads to different devices).
But will people keep ads? Do they even like them? In a survey the company conducted, Kurnit tells Online Media Daily, 56% of Internet users expressed an "intent to use" the service when it was explained to them. And those characterized as "value maximizers" came in at 78%. "People are going to use it for very different reasons -- there's no question about that," says Kurnit, but he says as a platform it will work for different sorts of users and all different sorts of ads.
One early program will be a Groupon-like discount that gets better as more people "keep" an ad. But, stresses Kurnit, this will be only one of many ways the service can be used. Down the line he sees the possibility for ads to be created with the "Keeper" in mind -- for instance, with specialized content consumers will want to review later.
Judging by the charter group of advertisers already signed up for AdKeeper (Kurnit pegs the number at about 50) there will be all sorts of advertisers using the service. The group includes Allstate, Ally Bank, AT&T, Best Buy, CBS, Ford, Gap, General Mills, InterContinental Hotels Group, JetBlue, Kia Motors, Kmart, Kraft Foods, Macy's, McDonald's, Pepsi, Sara Lee, Sears, Showtime, The Advertising Council, The Home Depot, Unilever and Warner Bros.
On AdKeeper these advertisers will theoretically sit alongside each other in a consumer's "Keeper." "What we've got is not only consumer-based marketing where the consumer is in control," says Kurnit, "but marketers who have never done stuff together before having network effect on each other."
AdKeeper does not charge for the button, but only on a CPM and CPC basis when users come back to the "Keeper" and engages with the ads. Although the model in some ways cuts the publisher out of the equation, Kurnit says it is a good thing for them, because it stops people from clicking away from their content and has the potential to increase their page views.
"We aim to be the most consumer-friendly adverting company in the world," declares Kurnit, but there's no problem with sharing the aggregate data with clients, of course. "The consumer's in control" of their own data, and while consumers will be encouraged to engage advertisers, there's no sharing of personally identifiable data. There are 20-plus data points that are sharable, according to Kurnit, including "was an ad kept," where it was kept from," "is it still in a keeper." As a 100% opt-in hedge against targeting regulation, Kurnit says the system has some of the benefits of behavioral targeting and retargeting "without any of the things that make Washington uneasy."
Fredric W. Harman, managing partner of Oak Investment Partners, will join AdKeeper's Board of Directors. Harman is currently on the Boards of several related companies, including Demand Media, Federated Media and the Huffington Post (each in which Oak has significant investments). AdKeeper's current advisory board includes Bob Greenberg, Janet Robinson of The New York Times Company, John Battelle, Ken Lerer of the Huffington Post, Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital, Wenda Harris Millard and Esther Dyson.