Amazon Ad Business Sparks Controversy—and Growth

There aren’t many companies that can claim to have a special competitive advantage over Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others in the cut-throat online advertising business. But Amazon.com, armed with unique customer data, a growing array of media-centric businesses, and a fledgling but fast-growing advertising platform, may be that rare beast.

Already, the e-commerce giant’s ad unit, which began to ramp up in 2011, is nearing a billion dollars in revenue, according to eMarketer. Media buyers say that growth has come even without an especially aggressive effort to lure them. Led by Seattle-based business development executive Jeff Blackburn and New York-based sales executives Lisa Utzschneider and Mark Mannino, Amazon’s ad division sells banner ads on the Amazon.com website and on Amazon-owned websites such as movie site IMDB, as well as on third-party sites. More recently the company has been displaying ads on the home screen of its Kindle e-readers and tablets.

Yet Amazon walks a delicate line in exploiting its most important asset: an enormous cache of shopping data that it can use to target people based on their in-store browsing history and their actual purchases. That, mixed with a corporate culture that has long valued secrecy and an insistence on making partners play by its rules, has made Amazon a controversial presence in the ad world.

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“As marketers we’d love as much data as we can get,” said Domenic Venuto of digital ad agency Vivaki. “At the same time we’ll play the long game. We understand the value that Amazon brings.”


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Advertising executives say Amazon refuses to discuss many basic metrics that other ad platforms routinely share. It also goes out of its way to keep customer data away from third party companies and ad exchanges, these executives say.