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The Exchange Lab Positions To Grab Cross-Platform RTB Spend

June 10, 2013

The folks behind The Exchange Lab including CEO James Aitken and COO Tim Webster, have a long history in ad tech and programmatic buying. Aitken founded Media Brokers in 2001, and both were a part of Atlas before Microsoft bought it through its acquisition of aQuantive.

The Exchange Lab, with headquarters in Toronto and London, has grown globally since its 2007 launch, now employing 64. It has done campaigns in 28 countries and is now planning for a New York office.

AdExchanger spoke to CEO James Aitken.

AdExchanger: What is the Exchange Lab?

JAMES AITKEN: We’re a multi-platform exchange in the programmatic space. We strategically run campaigns over multiple platforms because we know we can help performance. We have a lot of different DSP technologies that we use, and we also work in a multi-screen approach — in display, in mobile or in video.

Think of the stock exchanges, but instead of having the Toronto Stock Exchange, New York Stock Exchange and London Stock Exchange, you have Google, Facebook and Yahoo, and you want to buy on all those exchanges. You might find that a stock price in London is a lot more expensive than in New York, so you want to buy from the New York exchange. That’s where a tool like Bloomberg comes in. All the traders have those tools now, but why don’t we have them in digital media? We are that tool.

What is Data Lab?  

Data Lab is pretty much the proprietary analyst engine that’s the core of our multi-platform approach. When you’re going into all these different platforms, it can be very cumbersome. It takes a lot of time. There are a lot of people going into the screens, making the trades, loading up the bids.

Data Lab is a piece of technology that collates and standardizes language and the data across all the platforms, generating one unified dataset. We’ve automated this process. We have more than 10 billion data points to create some intelligence [with which] we can then benchmark price and performance across all the platforms that are available for programmatic buying.

You said the Exchange Lab works with clients in 28 countries. Who are some of those clients?

We work with Weight Watchers in Germany, Sky in the UK and Canada, Ford in Austria… In North America, we have McDonald’s, TD Bank, Mazda and Dell. We have hundreds of clients working with us on an ongoing basis.

Can you describe a recent campaign? 

I’ll give you an idea from a luxury women’s online retailer. In this example, it was a bridal promotional campaign. They were looking to drive sales, wanted to have a low cost per acquisition. They were looking to target high-end audiences in the UK and Germany, a target of women 25 to 54 with a household income of over 150,000 per annum.

We deployed audience targeting, partnered with re-messaging and contextual targeting. We delivered a CPA of 7.90 pounds, which was an 85% reduction of what they’d seen before. The average basket value, when consumers purchased, was 400 quid per average basket value. It was a one-to-three spend-to-sale ratio.

How do you see mobile, social and video impacting programmatic buying going forward?

It’s only going one way: the inventory is going to be traded programmatically, whatever the premium or price. We work with a ton of different platforms in the space, not for programmatic buying, but also integrating them into the Data Lab.

You’re only going to see more people using this model that’s come from display, in terms of being able to leverage cookie data and ROI data and all the different data points that you can bring into play. That’s going to push across platforms.

Can you talk about funding?

Right now, we’re privately funded by the founders and we’re profitable. We’ve been profitable since 2010.

To give you an idea, in 2012 we ran 1,021 campaigns in 29 markets, and we grew revenue by 300%. We’ve invested a significant six-figure investment into the Data Lab to build it up. We brought on a lot of very experienced Internet veterans. Veerle De Lombaerde, our global ad operations director, set up GroupM marketplace and Xaxis for their agency trading desk. Harjit Badesha, our commercial director in London, was from eBay. Thierry Bazay, our GM in Canada, is an ex-top Microsoft fellow.

What goals do you have for the Exchange Lab over the next year or 18 months?

It’s really about increasing our global footprint and making all our new offices stronger in order to increase that footprint. And to roll out Data Lab into all the other markets that we operate in. Right now, it’s live in the UK, but we’re rolling it out in other markets.

In the US, we do global campaigns, and an office in New York is “on the agenda.” All of this should increase demand not just on the Exchange Lab but also in the programmatic ecosystem in those markets. It’s going to be an interesting time as people start learning that you want to fish in all the oceans, not just the mid-Atlantic and the Arctic. You want to get them all.