NPario Shows EA How to Track and Target Consumers Across Web, Mobile, Social, Internet TV, and Game Consoles

9/30/10Follow @wroush

It’s a big week for nPario. The young Redmond, WA- and Palo Alto, CA-based startup is using technology developed at Yahoo to help businesses study media consumers who hop incessantly between their PCs, tablet devices, smartphones, game consoles, and Internet-connected TVs, then target them with the right ads on the right platforms. It’s had one huge customer—Yahoo itself—since its launch in January, but now it has a second marquee client, Redwood City, CA-based video game giant Electronic Arts.

EA announced at the Advertising Week conference, which got underway today in New York City, that outside advertisers can now track and target individual gamers across all of EA’s properties—including its mobile games, Facebook apps, Web-based games, or console games. The “comprehensive insights suite” that allows this targeting is powered by nPario.

Why should average Internet users care about an agreement between a Silicon Valley game giant and a tiny startup? Because deals like this represents the next big step in the evolution of “behavioral targeting.” Pioneered by Yahoo and other companies starting around 2004, this is the technology that Web publishers and advertisers use to track individuals and understand their product preferences and shopping habits as they migrate from website to website (typically using anonymized data stored in small text files called “cookies”). As consumers get more of their media content via social environments like Facebook, Internet-connected smartphones and TVs, and console games, software vendors have come up with ways to track and target consumers on those platforms, too. But for the most part, it’s been impossible to follow a single user as he moves, through the course of his day, from his computer to his smartphone to his TV to his game console.

EA's insights campaign dashboard, powered by nPario“The key distinction is this notion of multi-channel,” says Bassel Ojjeh, nPario’s president and CEO, who was formerly senior vice president of the strategic data solutions division at Yahoo—the division in charge of the giant portal’s targeted advertising programs. “If you look at most [behavioral targeting] players out there, they’ll say ‘I can understand your website inside out and show you how to target behaviors,’ but if you say ‘Great, but 20 percent of our users are on the iPhone, what can you do about that?’ they’ll say ‘We can’t do anything.’ So you have to work with Vendor X on the Web and Vendor Y on the iPhone and Vendor Z on IPTV. You can imagine how fragmented it’s become.”

Using heuristics and data-mining algorithms licensed from Yahoo, nPario looks at a number of inputs—such as login status, IP addresses, data from client-side or server-side cookies, and game console telemetry—to make an educated guess that the Bob Smith who played EA’s “Mirror’s Edge” game on his iPad for half an hour at 8:00 pm is the same Bob Smith who later logged into the EA site from his laptop to browse news about other mobile games. These software “connectors,” to use Ojjeh’s term, enable EA or other advertisers to hit Bob with an ad at the moment when he’s most likely to respond.

“At the end of the day, advertisers could care less about the channel, they just want to reach the right audience,” says Ojjeh. “And to reach the right audience, you need to understand what they are doing. Being able to understand that you’re an online gamer by day and a console gamer at night puts you at the center of a certain universe, which is what EA wants and what an advertiser wants.”

In its own announcement today, EA said the nPario technology will allow advertisers to understand and fine-tune how their campaigns are performing across EA’s whole network. “One of the biggest challenges for marketers is comprehensively evaluating and learning from their investments across disparate audiences, platforms, and content,” Elizabeth Harz, senior vice president of EA’s Global Media Sales team, said in the announcement. “Our insights suite is the solution. For the first time, our partners will have actionable insights as a result of their marketing communications to key audiences across all of our content and all of [our] platforms.”

Though it’s only 10 months old and has raised only a small amount of friends-and-family financing, Ojjeh’s 11-employee startup (whose R&D team is based in Redmond) has built up a remarkable amount of momentum. That’s in part because its customers understand the company’s Yahoo pedigree, Ojjeh says. With most software startups, he says, “Customers want to know if they are going to be your guinea pig. But we are in a unique position. We have a technology that has been proven with the largest, most complex portal in the world.”

Ojjeh says the EA deal is crucial for the company because it will allow nPario to show off the power of its cross-platform connectors. “We have other very large customers, you could argue even larger than EA, but obviously we’re very excited about EA, mainly because of the multi-platform, multi-channel brand that EA has,” he says. “Having our technology be exercised by somebody who is the number one iPhone game publisher, the number two Facebook app company, not to mention console games and so many other things, is extremely exciting.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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