Acxiom sells Marketing Solutions division to Interpublic, readies LiveRamp

Data provider Acxiom announced Monday it is selling off its Marketing Solutions (AMS) division to the Interpublic Group (IPG), a global marketing agency holding company, for $2.3 billion.

The move follows rumors that IPG was considering putting itself up for sale. It also follows a strategic review by Acxiom about the possibility of selling AMS and its LiveRamp division, an identity resolution service that specializes in matching offline and online data to create person-based profiles for targeting through its IdentityLink service.

In May, a report in AdExchanger indicated that Acxiom intended to sell AMS before selling LiveRamp and wasn’t considering bids for the entire company, because of the opportunity for a larger total price tag by splitting the company.

The Acxiom name will join IPG, which owns such major ad organizations as McCann Worldgroup, Deutsch and IPG Mediabrands. The AMS unit, which represents about three-quarters of the company’s total revenue, stores and manages anonymized consumer data from retailers, financial services and others.

As a major data provider, LiveRamp could bring a hefty price when it is offered as a standalone. Its IdentityLink forms the basis of the Advertising IQ Consortium, to which various data providers and ad tech firms belong.

There is speculation among observers that efforts to boost consumer data privacy — such as the recently launched General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for European Union consumers, the recently passed privacy law in California and the evolving Facebook scandal — could affect the viability of data providers. In March, giant social network Facebook announced it would no longer allow advertisers to import third-party data for ad targeting.

LiveRamp, acquired by Acxiom in 2014, promotes the idea that its data profiles of individuals, assembled by cross-matching various data sets and anonymized when used by advertisers, has had consent built in from the company’s beginning.

But it’s not clear if LiveRamp’s or AMS’s consent is, say, GDPR- or California-level consent, or whether huge swaths of it are now dependent on to-be-acquired consumer agreement.

“While Acxiom’s [AMS] data might seem lucrative,” customer data platform Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt told me via email, “what IPG needs to realize is that their data sets are likely not collected with explicit end user consent, which would violate data etiquette and could be in violation of new regulations.”

Urban Airship SVP Mike Herrick emailed me saying: “Acxiom has a treasure trove of third-party consumer data that will rapidly become difficult to collect, which is why it’s an attractive stop-gap investment for ad tech firms that have now found themselves cut out of the walled garden, first-party approaches taken by Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.”

About The Author

Barry Levine covers marketing technology for Third Door Media. Previously, he covered this space as a Senior Writer for VentureBeat, and he has written about these and other tech subjects for such publications as CMSWire and NewsFactor. He founded and led the web site/unit at PBS station Thirteen/WNET; worked as an online Senior Producer/writer for Viacom; created a successful interactive game, PLAY IT BY EAR: The First CD Game; founded and led an independent film showcase, CENTER SCREEN, based at Harvard and M.I.T.; and served over five years as a consultant to the M.I.T. Media Lab. You can find him at LinkedIn, and on Twitter at xBarryLevine.