Q&A with Direct Revenue's New CEO
January 06, 2006

What happens when an adware company decides to change its brand image? Find out in this interview with Jean-Philippe Maheu.

Adware company Direct Revenue recently ended the use of third-party affiliate networks for distribution. It is now distributing its adware client exclusively through its own promotion of free advertising-supported software and a set of distribution partners with which it has direct relationships to ensure the consumer knows precisely what he/she is getting, and that disclosure is clear, visible and in accordance with best practices.

iMedia contributor Mark Naples sat down with Direct Revenue's new CEO, Jean-Philippe Maheu, to chat about the changes.

Mark Naples: The announcement that Direct Revenue has departed the downloads business has been very well-received. I applaud your efforts with the TrustE and the Network Advertising Initiative, the most respected privacy organizations in our industry. Talk to me about the challenges the company will face for its distribution now, and how it anticipates getting back to the revenue figures it had been enjoying.

Jean-Philippe Maheu: Behavioral marketing is an industry with tremendous growth potential. The changes we've made since I came on board in May -- including ceasing affiliate distribution of our software, working with the NAI and simplifying our branding -- are representative of our commitment to doing right by our customers, partners, employees, investors and consumers. And we've got some exciting developments and innovations in store that we believe will have extremely positive implications, both for Direct Revenue and this industry. It's too soon to go into detail, but keep your eyes peeled.

Naples: Rebranding a company along these lines can be difficult. Telling the marketplace is one thing. But, can you tell me how your clients have been receiving it?

Maheu: We simplified our branding structure because we felt the old branding structure was confusing with too many different names, and we wanted to be clear in our presentation and communications. The brand name we chose "Best Offers" had been the name of our network, and therefore was known to our advertisers. Our partners understand the change and have been very supportive of our efforts to bring more clarity around our services.

Naples: Many companies in the space you're leaving have pointed out that advertisers don't much care about the tactics -- they only want to see results. Would you agree with that statement?

Maheu: No I do not agree. Advertisers want results, but they also want to continuously improve their brand reputation.

Our desire is to deliver industry-leading results for our advertisers and partners using permission-based marketing principles. The steps we've taken through the NAI to establish and follow industry best practices and our support of the Trusted Download Program recently announced by TRUSTe speak to our belief that credibility is a vital component to our business strategy and value proposition.

Naples: While behavioral marketing has justifiably become something of an industry darling, do you think that cookie-driven targeting can be as effective as targeting that relies on downloads that can gather more information from users?

Maheu: Cookie-driven targeting has inherent limitations associated with the size of the publishers' network that share the cookie data. The cookie-driven targeting companies will never understand more than a very limited set of behaviors on any specific user. On the other hand targeting based on a downloadable application has a more comprehensive view of a user. I think Google understands this very well.

Naples: In your EULA, it seems that removing downloads requires users to initiate another, different download. This download appears to remain on the user's hard drive. Can you explain this in ways that will make users feel more secure?

Maheu: We have upgraded our client-side technology and all our new downloads can be uninstalled straight from the add/remove windows panel or from the uninstall feature of the free host application that our advertising supports. In the past, our former software did require the user to download uninstaller software from our server. Upon completion of the uninstall, all software from Direct Revenue (i.e. the advertising software and the uninstaller software) is removed from the user's computer.

Naples: With more than 20 million downloads still residing on user hard drives, including product names like Aurura, Ceres and SolidPeer -- some of the more infamous programs out there -- can you describe your plans to help users remove these? The assumption is that these will no longer be in use, and no data will be gathered by them. Is that the case? And, if it is not the case, can you describe how future Direct Revenue products will be working with these residual ones? Will they be working together?

Maheu: An uninstall is never more than two mouse-clicks away. Users can uninstall our old software by going to the windows add/remove panel. All advertisements that come from Best Offers have a question mark that, should the user click on it, provides a short explanation of why the user is receiving the ads and has a link to our uninstall function.

Naples: Since other companies have made so many strides in developing their behavioral networks, do you feel as though you'll be playing catch up, since you've characterized your efforts as "starting from scratch?" If so, what kinds of strategies can you discuss that will help you make up ground? And how will you differentiate your offering from that of your competitors?

Maheu: Absolutely not! The field of behavioral marketing is very young. If anything, early entrants have invested resources to educate the market and demonstrate the power of behavioral marketing. I believe 2006 will be a banner year for behavioral marketing so our timing should be perfect.

In terms of differentiation, the only thing I can say is that we believe our behavioral targeting technology will be superior to what exists out there right now. However, we still have some work to do before we can launch this new business.

Naples: Anything you'd like to add…?

Maheu: I would just add that the successes of behavioral marketing rely on an echo-system that includes privacy advocates, anti-spyware software vendors, advertisers and the behavioral marketing firms. Together, we need to work to educate consumers and advertisers.

Mark Naples is managing partner for WIT Strategy. WIT Strategy is a strategic communications consultancy that serves clients who do business on the web in the United States, Europe and Latin America. WIT Strategy helps these organizations identify and leverage marketplace opportunities, developing and executing strategies that enable them to meet their sales and marketing and/or corporate public affairs objectives in the most cost-effective manner. Formerly the vice president of marketing, investor relations, and privacy officer for 24/7 Real Media (NASDAQ:TFSM), Mark's experience in media, marketing and public affairs with firms such as Ogilvy & Mather and Kearns & West has ranged from lobbying for the "Baby Bells" as part of the Telecom Reform Act of 1994 to the summer 1996 re-launch of


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