Greg Coleman has held some of the highest profile positions in the digital ad industry, leading sales at Yahoo, AOL and, most recently, The Huffington Post. It’s interesting that he chose an ad-retargeting company, Criteo, for his next career move.
Coleman was announced today as the new president at Criteo, a six-year-old ad retargeting firm that started in France as a site recommendation tool and morphed into an ad retargeter in 2008. Criteo is in a hot space that helps advertisers find the most valuable of audiences: people who have visited their sites but didn’t buy. Retargeting is often the most effective form of display advertising for performance. Criteo’s twist is it also customizes the ad based on what the user looked at on the site. Peruse running shoes, then put off a purchase, you might later see an ad from Criteo for those exact shoes.
Criteo has 300 employees spread across 20 countries. It has raised $24 million in funding and competes with retargeting specialists such as Buysight, Dotomi and Fetchback (recently acquired by GSI) as well as retargeting options from Google, Yahoo and others.
Coleman spoke to DIGIDAY from a train on the way to Washington, D.C., about his reasons for making the move and the future of online advertising.
Why Criteo? You must have had a lot options. What made you choose the retargeting market?
I’ve been on the advisory board for the last year. I had the chance to really look into the company fairly deeply and understand what they’re doing. Two of my closest friends from Yahoo, Toby Coppel and Domenique Vidal  are both on the board of Criteo. I had the chance to do a deep dive with people I know and trust. The business model of retargeted performance dispaly advertising was wildly interesting to me at  Yahoo. We had teams of people doing part-time jobs trying to solve that puzzle. We weren’t that effective. With the inventory growing online and ad networks trying to fill that up, I believe that if we can create that technology that understands performance display it would be a huge business. The results are undeniable. The renewal rates for Criteo in Europe are not believable but true. They can deliver performance.
What makes Criteo different from other retargeters?
We’re dynamically creating all the advertising. We’re creating the look and feel of the ads. The team understands what direct response is all about. IOf you were going to serve a generic banner ad up even if you had the best retargeting algorithms it wouldn’t be effective. The right ad at the right time to the right person  — that’s the magic. On the publishing side, in my last year and a half at The Huffington Post, lots of people came in with the promises of being able to deliver significant performance. There are many impostors out there. There are only a few people who can deliver. Criteo knows precisely the time to serve up the ad and knows precisely how to serve up the ad to get the response to get them to buy. That’s the magic.
Why has online struggled so much with the brand side of the equation?
The difficulty today is there’s so much inventory. I really believe there’s going to be a further compression of CPMs as the proliferation of networks and DSPs and content continues to grow. One of the things that kept up at night was the ability to continue to hold onto high CPMs. The opportunity with Criteo is in that middle. There’s all this inventory and a lot of players playing at the bottom of the barrel and we play at the middle. The advertiser gets the advantage of the direct response as well as brand.
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