AOL: Tacoda Not Fading Away; Plans To integrate The Technology Across Ad.com Next Month

This story was written by David Kaplan.
Despite either laying off or losing nearly half a dozen of its senior executive team over the past two months, AOL is insisting that its behavioral targeting unit, Tacoda, is not being dissolved. The Time Warner unit made a special announcement highlighting its plans to fully integrate Tacoda's tools across AOL's Platform-A ad network of sites by June. AOL has issued a steady stream of news to demonstrate the activity around Platform-A - as we reported this morning, during the Time Warner Q1 investor call, CEO Jeff Bewkes flatly stated, "We didn't integrate Platform-A fast enough .. and that led to sales-channel conflict." In addition to promising quick moves on integrating Tacoda's tools with Platform-A, last month, Platform-A merged Quigo's Feedpoint search marketing system with Advertising.com's OutSearch product. Release

-- The end of Tacoda?: Part of the reason given for the firing of Curt Viebranz as president of Platform-A after less than six months was that he was not moving fast enough on bringing all the various parts of Platform-A together, including recent acquisitions such as contextual advertiser Quigo, streaming media ad specialist Lightningcast, German online ad server Adtech, affiliate marketing network Buy.at and mobile ad services provider Third Screen Media. However, sources have told paidContent that Viebranz, the former head of Tacoda, was let go because Viebranz was he differed with AOL CEO Randy Falco and COO Ron Grant over which unit would manage ad sales tied to behavioral targeting - Tacoda or Advertising.com. Although Tacoda specializes in behavioral targeting, senior executives wanted to subordinate its sales force to display ad net Advertising.com, which was acquired by AOL in 2004 and has been considered one of the unit's major success stories. Tacoda was bought by AOL last summer for $275 million. Two weeks ago, we reported that several senior Tacoda hands have left or been fired as well over the past three months, including Tacoda co-founder Dave Morgan, Tacoda CFO Mark Pinney and Dan Jaye, who was CTO and Viebranz's successor as president of that unit; Larry Allen, Tacoda's head of business development, and Matt Arkin, who was Tacoda's ad sales head and was tapped to manage Platform-A's western region. During a conversation with Grant about AOL's recent spate of activity, Grant was asked if the company was considering dissolving the Tacoda brand completely as it's tools are merged with the rest of Platform-A and he denied that was happening. "We have a lot of plans being developed for Tacoda over the coming months," he said.

-- Or a new beginning?: Another source, who also didn't want to be identified, felt that AOL was ultimately interested in the technology of Tacoda, not it's team. "I don't blame Lynda [Clarizio, Viebranz's successor at Platform-A and formerly president of Ad.com] for taking these steps, but it's different from what was done when Ad.com was brought in," the source said. According to this source, when AOL bought Ad.com for $435 million in June 2004, the company strived to keep it independent from other parts of AOL (NYSE: TWX). "They built a moat around it and that's part of the rason it became so successful," the source said. "But the view with the newer acquisitions is to have them support Ad.com. It could be a successful strategy. And it does make sense to get rid of any overlaps. But what's being done with Tacoda and other companies is a markedly different strategy than what was done with Ad.com."


By David Kaplan