Todacell: An alternative mobile ad network steps out

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todacell_smallADOTAS – There may not be a debutante ball with frilly dresses and suitors aplenty, but today off-portal mobile display advertising network Todacell is coming out into the public eye after years in stealth mode.

“This is the next step in revving up our business as well as another step in the evolution of market,” said Todacell CEO and founder Moshe Vaknin, a 20-year veteran of the digital advertising and telecom industries. “We hope to see a major growth in capacity.”

Since 2007 the staff of Tel Aviv-based Todacell has tested and advanced its alternative to “blind” networks in which media planners are unaware of where their ads are running. Instead, Todacell spends three to four months analyzing mobile publishers’ ad inventories, determining how best to align advertisers with the appropriate publisher inventory — beyond age and gender, Todacell learns the hardware and preferences of users. This targeting optimizes ad effect and has led to high conversion rates. In addition, the company’s technology works with publishers to match appropriate ads with users.

Unlike many other mobile networks, quality is light years ahead of quantity in Todacell’s book. “We have no intention to monetize all inventory, just the top of the line,” Vaknin said. “We’re growing fast but slow — fast in monetizing, but slow in volume. We don’t want to create a mass market.”

Though Vaknin has a wealth of experience in online advertising — having served as president and CEO of Checkm8 and president and COO of Adwise — coming to the mobile frontier meant developing a new approach.

“Mobile advertising is not the same as online at all,” he said. “Many publishers try to move their website from online to mobile and it doesn’t work. They need to look at it fresh, as adopting a new medium — that’s the way we approach it.”

Todacell does not target mobile carriers, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t caused problems. The biggest challenge in building the Todacell network has been mobile carriers defending their territory by blocking applications and so forth. However, Apple’s iPhone has changed the equation, making browsing far more mobile and nearly bypassing carriers. This has made carriers more open to advertising.

Vaknin has bought wholly into the theory that advertising’s future lies in the mobile market. The company has built its model on the hypothesis that smartphones will make up 90% to 100% of the mobile devices in the near future. Technology such as Todacell’s are a leap closer to total user personalization. Vaknin has witnessed this stride personally.

“I don’t remember many of the ads I see online, but the mobile ones are hard to miss because they’re so targeted and highly specialized,” he said.

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