Post-Rocket Fuel, Internet Ad Pioneer John Nardone Sets Sights Back On Sites, Joins Ad Server

John Nardone, an early Internet media pioneer who went on to create a best-in-breed ad technology firm [x+1], which was sold to Rocket Fuel late last year, is setting his sights back on sites -- as well as mobile -- joining U.K.-based ad-serving platform Flashtalking as CEO.

Nardone, who began his Internet ad career at seminal digital shop Modem Media by buying the first-ever display ad on a Web site -- AT&T’s banner on Hotwired -- says he is shifting to ad serving because of the growing complexity of the marketplace and the opportunity to make ads work better across all the platforms and devices that computers render them on. Given his background at [x+1], Nardone said data is definitely part of his vision for accelerating Flashtalking’s growth, but he asserts, “there is not a play here to turn it into a DSP, or things like that.

“It’s an ad-serving platform,” he explained to Real-Time Daily. “There is not an ambition for it to be more than an ad-serving platform. But there is an ambition for it to be the ad-serving platform that is uniquely configured and positioned to support the complex programmatic needs of a rapidly evolving marketplace.”

As such, Nardone is going up against a pretty entrenched marketplace of entrenched ad-serving competitors, most notably Google’s DoubleClick, but he says the opportunity exists because Flashtalking already has built best-in-breed applications, including a nimble creative suite that has rapidly gained traction in Europe, and now he wants to help spread the word in the U.S.

Nardone said he began talking with the Flashtalking team when he was at [x+1] and got to known them as a customer, and also by referring it to some of [x+1]’s customers, and he said they specifically were looking to recruit a new chief based in the U.S. marketplace. He noted that the U.S. has already become Flashtalking’s biggest marketplace, and his job is to accelerate that by focusing on its creative, technology and data services.

He declined to comment on his reasons for leaving Rocket Fuel, the publicly traded programmatic ad market-maker that acquired [x+1] for more than $230 million late last year, but he is the second top executive in that organization relinquishing his role. Recently, co-founder George John announced he is retiring as CEO and a search committee has been formed to find a successor and that John would remain chairman.

While Nardone tells RTD that Flashtalking absolutely is an ad-serving market-maker, he acknowledged that enhanced data applications and analysis would be a key area of focus for its growth.

“The ad server is in a unique position, as the last point of contact for the customer, where the pixels are delivered to the page,” he explained, adding: “And because of that, it is in a unique position to test the viewability of the ad -- whether that ad was viewed or not. It’s in a unique position to collect the data for things like attribution modeling. It’s in a unique position to collect data for optimization of the creative itself. So while we double down on the front end of value creation with creative, we want to really start looking at the value creation on the analytics side.”

Nardone, who will be based in New York, has deep roots in data and analytics.

He was a founding board member of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and previously worked at Pepsi, Modem Media and Marketing Management Analytics (MMA), a pioneer in the field of marketing mix modeling. He said the next big opportunity for marketers would be to finally crack the code on digital “attribution analysis,” which seeks to pick up where offline marketing mix analysis left off, tying it to real-time ad serving data and the consumer behaviors that result from that.
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