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Q&A: ExoClick CEO Benjamin Fonzé on Ad Network Conquest

Q&A: ExoClick CEO Benjamin Fonzé on Ad Network Conquest
Alejandro Freixes

A luminous globe burns with incandescent power beneath Benjamin Fonzé’s steady hand, every continent on its surface aglow with the vibrant threads of ExoClick’s vast ad network.

And with nearly as many impressions as the global population itself, boasting more than six billion and counting, Fonzé can pluck the strands of his ad network with the musical artistry of a harpist … and the nimbleness of a puppeteer.

One of our company values is ‘where people and creativity drive innovative technology,’ so we put tech and our talented team first … and this blend between people and technology enables us to bring ‘firsts’ to the adult industry.

He can spin data-driven harmonies, sew complex patterns with algorithmic sorceries and seamlessly deliver ads to the juiciest of destinations, reaching ever higher for the next gold mine, hefting a pickaxe in his grip.

That is why, as one of the most widely beloved ad serving platforms in the adult entertainment universe, ExoClick has grown from its inception in 2006 to a behemoth that now employs 130 people from 33 nationalities, with offices spanning Madrid, Valencia and Dublin … plus, two new offices on the horizon.

And, the fulcrum by which Fonzé leverages his increasingly lucrative influence is ExoClick’s absolute dedication to supercharging clients’ ROI — via endlessly evolving advances like the company’s ultra sleek Programmatic RTB engine, their traffic-monetizing Ad Exchange and their ad-blocker-trampling NeverBlock.

It will come as no surprise, then, that one of the company’s values is “where people and creativity drive innovative technology.” And in that very same spirit of excellence, to better comprehend how ExoClick continually sharpens its cutting-edge offerings … with seemingly unstoppable momentum … XBIZ tapped into Fonzé’s remarkable expertise, in this exclusive Presidential Suite interview!

XBIZ: Since the genesis of ExoClick, you’ve grown to become one of the largest ad networks in the world. Over the years, would you say this success was mostly a matter of steady progress and gradual evolution, or were there tipping points that resulted in quantum leaps? At a glance, how have you achieved such prominence, compared to your earliest milestones?

Fonzé: I set up ExoClick in 2006 and the first few years were a gradual progression, as I began to build and improve the ad serving platform and turn it into a serious business. As it grew, I began to hire talent in order to build up scale. Then, in 2011, we moved our offices to the Torre Mapfre by the beach in Barcelona, and this was a defining moment, as ExoClick had grown into a substantial business. Two years ago, we doubled our office space in the building and now we employ 130 people made up of 33 different nationalities, with additional offices in Madrid, Valencia (Spain) and Dublin … with plans to open two new offices shortly.

We have grown ExoClick by always reinvesting the profits we have generated, developing our business and expansion in a cautious way. We have never wasted money and only invested in things that we really believe in. No outside investors have been involved, so we haven’t been under pressure from outside forces or been pushed to grow the company with the goal of making an exit. This has enabled us to grow at our own pace.

Some key milestones for us have been the growth in ad impressions. If you look back to 2010, we were serving half a billion daily impressions. By 2014, this grew to 4 billion — in 2016, 5 billion … and today, we are serving 6 billion daily impressions. This growth is due to continually innovating with new platform features and ad formats.

One of our company values is “where people and creativity drive innovative technology,” so we put tech and our talented team first … and this blend between people and technology enables us to bring “firsts” to the adult industry.

We were the first to introduce programmatic RTB, native advertising, in-stream video advertising and now we have another first with the launch of our new Ad Exchange. By staying ahead of the game and making the right strategic decisions we hope that we are setting the industry standard. By pushing technology forward, our clients can maximize their ROI with the best tools available.

XBIZ: In fact, it was this January that ExoClick introduced its Programmatic RTB engine, allowing advertisers to up their ROI via automated bidding and integrated optimization software/algorithms. How did this change the game for your clients?

Fonzé: Programmatic is the future of the digital ad industry. It is highly efficient and allows advertisers to automate many parts of their campaigns so that they can build scale, while reducing the time it takes to achieve their conversion goals. This has been a strategic part of our growth, which we began way back in 2014 when we made our clients’ big data available to them along with a range of analytical tools. We followed that in 2015 with our platform API, which allowed clients to plug in their own automation software. At the start of this year, we launched our Programmatic RTB engine.

Programmatic RTB is a means by which advertising inventory is bought and sold on a per-impression basis, via automated instantaneous auction, similar to the model used by financial markets. With RTB, advertisers bid on an impression and, if the bid is won, the buyer’s ad is instantly displayed on the publisher’s site. These auctions are held in the milliseconds it takes for a web page to load. The big advantage for advertisers is that they can now automate their bidding and integrate their own optimization software and algorithms in order to improve their ROI.

This has now led to the next product in our strategy, the launch of our new Ad Exchange. Now publishers can monetize their traffic not only with ExoClick, but also with other ad networks from one place: our Ad Exchange. Currently, we have over 30 ad networks and DSPs that are already plugged into our exchange, and we are adding more each day. We are the first to bring an ad exchange to the adult industry and we offer full transparency to publishers by displaying which ad network or DSP is monetizing their traffic. The exchange allows publishers to increase demand for their inventory and advertisers to plug into our RTB exchange engine, giving them direct access to multiple sources of high quality inventory in a massive global marketplace.

Our Ad Exchange is seamlessly integrated into our proprietary ad serving platform so that Ad Exchange clients have access to all of our platform’s features including deep targeting, retargeting, real-time statistics, conversion tracking and big data analytical tools.

This is the real game changer for our clients and the adult industry as a whole. It is also a game changer for ExoClick as a brand, as we now offer two products: an ad network and an ad exchange, which has led us to reposition ourselves as a global ad company. This allows us to widen our business ecosystem like never before.

XBIZ: Also notable is the fact that your ad network provides access to a broad array of traffic data, rather than basic segmentation. How does your unique market position, which straddles adult and mainstream, enable clients to harness this wide swath of market data?

Fonzé: Well, even though we do offer mainstream traffic, adult is still 95 percent of our business. However, by giving adult advertisers access to mainstream traffic and mainstream advertisers access to adult traffic, we are hopefully blurring the lines between adult and mainstream. Over the last few years, we have seen a demand from mainstream advertisers looking for adult traffic and vice versa … and many mainstream offers convert well in adult, including entertainment, dating and gaming. What sets us apart from the competition is that our platform allows advertisers to segment traffic so that they can tap into mainstream and adult niches, which gives our traffic targeting more value than other traffic sources in the market.

XBIZ: What is your current assessment of the impact that ad blocking is having on advertising campaigns? Are there certain kinds of advertising campaigns that are less susceptible to ad blocking? What are the ideal solutions?

Fonzé: Ad blocking isn’t going to go away. We specifically created NeverBlock as a tool to circumvent ad blockers to ensure our clients’ ads are shown. NeverBlock also helps publishers further monetize ad block traffic and we have seen excellent results. Native advertising further helps to defeat ad blockers because it is not “in your face” advertising, but looks more like the editorial of a publisher’s site. But looking at the bigger picture, it is more important to look at why users are installing ad blockers.

Research shows that the key motivators are annoying ad formats, particularly pop-ups — we do not accept these kinds of ad formats on our network. Data also shows that users prefer to see ads that are relevant to them, so it is essential that advertisers choose the right type of targeting for their offers, not only from an ad blocking perspective, but also to ensure that they are not wasting their valuable impressions. So the ideal solution is correct targeting, less overt retargeting and not using annoying ad formats. We have to live in a world where ad blocking exists, so these measures will help to reduce the need for users to install them.

XBIZ: In a recent article on the ExoClick blog, your head of communication Giles Hirst explored how publishers are seeing a rapid rise in native ad revenues, with 92.3 percent of the 7,500 respondents surveyed by AdsNative reporting an increase in the last year. To what do you attribute this overall pattern?

Fonzé: I’m not surprised by that research because native ads are a great way for publishers to generate revenues. Native ads can help publishers avoid banner saturation on their sites, which can be off putting for users. We advise our publishers to create new ad zones with native ads and mix them with the actual content of their website. Additionally, some publishers find that they can generate more revenues by replacing underperforming ad zones with native advertising.

We introduced the format in April this year and feedback from clients has been very positive. It is super easy for publishers to integrate our flexible widget into their ad zones and because they appear like editorial content, they do not interrupt the user experience like an animated banner would. The format has a much higher CTR especially if the ad is relevant to a user.

XBIZ: How can advertisers take advantage of ExoClick’s platform to pursue quality traffic, via targeting, greater conversions and campaign optimization, with regards to mobile advertising? Comparatively, is it important to still target desktops? How about other devices?

Fonzé: The core mission of ExoClick has always been to give clients full transparency while maximizing their ROI and earnings. Clients have full access to all their traffic and conversion data in real-time so that they can track and analyze their campaigns and then optimize them on the fly.

Mobile accounts for 65 percent of our revenues and our additional mobile targeting features include device, mobile carrier and IP range targeting. Whether you target mobile, tablet or desktop depends on your offer. Mobile-related products such as localized dating, utilities and offers that rely on carrier billing fit with mobile. VOD offers, membership sites, live cams and offers using credit card billing work better on desktop and tablet, as these products show better on a big screen and entering credit card details on these devices is much easier than on mobile.

Regarding other devices, VR is the channel to watch right now, and once consumer adoption increases it will be possible to really build up scale for VR offers.

XBIZ: You were profiled in April by the BBC, where it was revealed you have a substantial market share of web pages ending with the .xxx domain (72.5 percent). How did you manage to so thoroughly command this web space?

Fonzé: Again, it is a result of several factors: our ad formats, platform features and our dedicated team of publisher account managers who sign up new publisher accounts with the .xxx domain. This has all helped to boost our market share here. Additionally, I think that our transparency and brand reputation has helped us increase our client portfolio.

XBIZ: ExoClick recently announced a huge benchmark: that your ad network is serving six billion daily impressions. Tell us how innovations like the native ad format and your pre-roll in-stream video ad format contributed to this achievement?

Fonzé: As we continue to introduce new platform features, new ad formats such as native, pre-roll in-stream video, RTB and now our new Ad Exchange, we are giving our clients more tools to generate revenues, all of which leads to the generation of more daily impressions. I am so happy that we have reached this milestone and so is the team, because I made a promise I would take the whole company to Ibiza for our annual team building event, when we reached six billion impressions. So, look out Ibiza in 2018, ExoClick is coming!

XBIZ: What challenges will digital advertisers face in the coming years, which ExoClick is proactively creating solutions to address?

Fonzé: I would prefer to look at challenges as opportunities because as a digital ad company we must use technology to find solutions to the problems our clients face. Ad blocking was one of these cases.

The complexity of modern marketing is only going to become even more complex. The job of being a marketer in 2017 is undoubtedly more difficult than it was 10 years ago. The proliferation of channels, markets and incomes in emerging markets around the world, has made marketing a complex discipline.

While this is a big challenge, it’s also a good problem to have, as over the next five years, marketers will have an ever-growing customer base thanks to the growth of smartphone adoption in emerging markets, enabling digital marketers to reach billions of these users directly.

Technology continues to develop rapidly with AI having a huge potential. At present, there are simple AI programs — like digital assistants — that are starting to shape the ways that users interact with digital devices … but on a much bigger scale, ad tech companies are working on ways to use AI and machine learning to update their own systems and develop algorithms.

Similarly, the lines between the digital world and real world are starting to blur. With virtual reality, users are starting to crave immersive, interactive experiences and marketers will have to provide a hybridized experience to meet consumer expectations.

Whatever progress happens in technology in the coming years you can be sure that ExoClick will be there to harness the power of these new technologies in order to help our clients monetize and grow their businesses in the ever-changing tech landscape.

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