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turn2.jpgTurn, an online advertising company which lets advertisers use any type of targeting approach — such as matching ads to the context of a page, delivering them to users showing certain behaviors, or a mix of customized targeting methods — officially launches its ad platform today.
We wrote about the company last year, when it was in testing. Today, it announces it has signed more than 500 advertisers and agencies and has 3,000 websites participating.

It’s hard to keep track of all the ad exchanges that have emerged lately, but Turn says it is the only site offering all main options to advertisers and publishers.

It’s difficult to know whether or not Turn will succeed, because the company isn’t revealing too much about customer details. Last year, it said it had more than 1,000 advertisers (more than it has now), but the company tells me that’s because it has changed its strategy and gotten rid of some low-end affiliate network customers that had hundreds of customers.

But it’s likely advertisers are going to want to want the flexibility that Turn offers, as they begin to demand better results.

First off, Turn lets an advertiser decide whether it wants to pay per ad impression (CPM), per click (CPC) or per action (CPA). The advertiser provides Turn with its ad design (creative), and then Turn crawls the advertisers home page, its various secondary pages and assesses information about its brand, its strength, etc., and stores all this information in its database.

Then, when an online publisher requests an ad for one of its pages, Turn assesses the publisher in a similar way, for example scanning the site’s content, user profiles if they’re made available, and up to 70 other variables Turn thinks will help it decide which ads are best for matching.

Then, Turn makes the match, based on what an advertiser has requested. So if a credit card company decides it wants to advertise at a $2 CPM, but also specifies that it wants to acquire customers at no more than $100 each, Turn makes sure it places ads only on sites where the $2 CPM rate will yield customers at a total of $100 or less in total spending. Turn’s chief executive Jim Barnett says Turn can decide which sites work for the campaign after about a half million impressions.

Barnett says no other advertising exchange offers this sort of service with as much sophistication. Take, for example, a major news site. On a given day, the site’s front page might have various unrelated articles, including Castro stepping down, or unrest in Pakistan. The only real common thread is “news.” In this case, if the site requests an ad for these pages, Turn might draw on behavioral data, by reading cookies in the browser of the site visitor to note they have visited a travel site within the last 48 hours. Turn might serve a travel-related ad. In a second case, the new site might call for an ad for its finance page. Turn notes that the subject matter is more focused on finance, and might also see that there’s an article about 401K plans on the page. Turn would then heavily weight the contextual component in its algorithm for serving ads, and would thus serve an ad for a Fidelity brokerage account. Finally, for a page that features an obituary article, Turn might have no good behavorial or textual context to draw upon, so it might rely more on the history of what has performed well on the overall news site to date. It might know, for example, that women aged 25 to 45 are among the highest visitors to the news site, and so it might serve up a diet or fitness ad.

Barnett says most other sites only use a few of the methods, but not all. For example, Revenue Science or Tacoda only use behavorial data to serve ads on their network.

Who are the closest competitors? AOL’s Advertising.com is one. That company bought Taodca recently, and so uses elements of behavioral and past performance of ads, but it doesn’t offer an auction environment like Turn. Neither does it offer a self-serve dashboard like Turn does. However, AOL recently bought Quigo, which offers a self-serve system, in order to close this gap. Microsoft’s aQuantive is another competitor, and recently bought exchange AdECN to fill in its own offerings. Finally, there’s DoubleClick, which has an exchange, but offers manual targeting only (site or category selection), no automatic or blended targeting.