Aquto Platform To Power AT&T Sponsored Data Ads

When AT&T introduced its Sponsored Data program last month -- allowing marketers to cover the data costs when customers interact with their promoted content -- it named startup Aquto as one of its initial partners. On Thursday, the Boston-based company announced it will power ads for the AT&T initiative through its mobile value exchange (MoVE) Zero platform starting in March.

Hershey’s and game developer ZeptoLab, maker of "Cut the Rope," are among the initial marketers on board.

Aquto will allow advertisers to run Sponsored Data promotions on mobile sites and apps that reach AT&T’s 4G customers and allow them to engage with ad content without incurring related data charges. The ads will labeled as "sponsored data" in the lower left corner and "powered by Aquto" in the right corner. That’s because Aquto itself will pay AT&T for the data costs and charge advertisers based on ad performance.



“We get paid by app developers and advertisers to increase engagement or conversions and we turn around and we use that to buy mobile data from the carriers,” said Aquto CEO Susie Kim Riley. “So we provide, in some ways, a monetization layer.”

AT&T’s Sponsored Data offering is mainly focused on an API (application programming interface) that companies or developers would use to underwrite data costs for specific apps or content aimed at a particular audience. By contrast, Riley emphasized Aquto’s platform would let advertisers reach some 70 million AT&T smartphone users across hundreds of apps and sites.

She would not specify when the app would extend to AT&T customers, as well. For now, Aquto will let the carrier’s users interact with sponsored content without running up data expenses. Among the launch advertisers, Hershey’s will use the option to promote its Scharffen Berger premium chocolate line, inviting users to watch a related video. ZeptoLab wants people to download "Cut the Rope 2."

Eventually, the company will enable ads that would let AT&T customers earn specific mobile data rewards -- say 30 or 50 megabytes -- for taking certain actions within an ad, like watching a video or taking a survey. It’s already doing that through its Kickbit rewards app in conjunction with Verizon’s prepaid network and Vodafone Portugal.

“Most of the campaigns we’re going to be running would be national campaigns, a lot of impressions shown…hitting a lot of sites and eyeballs. It’s not limited to a few thousand users,” Riley said. The service, though, does also allow geotargeting of ads.

AT&T’s toll-free data plan for marketers has come under as a potential threat to Net neutrality principles by letting some content bypass the carrier’s data caps. Shortly after the announcement, however, a federal court shortly after struck down the FCC’s Net neutrality regulations aimed at maintaining the openness of the Internet.

For their part, agency executives have expressed interest in Sponsored Data, but still have questions about whether marketing efforts using the capability will pay off. That’s where Aquto hopes to play a key role as a middleman. “We know mobile Internet data is a very effective currency to actually increase engagement and conversions,” said Riley.


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