Barry Eitel

iSign Media is an emerging company based out of Toronto that is developing fascinating “proximity-based” advertising solutions. I sat down with company founder and CEO Alex Romanov on the first day of ad:tech to discuss this innovative technology.

Allvoices (AV): So what’s the pitch?

We are a mobile solution that will broadcast to phones within a 300-foot range. We don’t call it location-based because that suggests something to do with GPS. We call it proximity. If an enterprise is pushing our coupons within 300 feet of their store, they got you with your credit card, your phone and your clothes on. It could be a Taco Bell, it could a hotel saying, "Hey, we’re more than just a sleeping place, come on in and enjoy some sports. Get some free chicken wings."

We will identify the make and model of your phone, we will identify exactly the time you entered the region and we’ll send you a prompt that will say “would you like an offer from, let’s say, the Gap.” If you click yes, you’ll get a coupon. If you say no, you don’t download a coupon. But we capture that data. It will also ask if you want to join a loyalty program for that specific store. But it’s very private.

This was a big focus from day one. If you are talking to mobile devices, you shouldn’t have anything to do with a person’s name, phone number or email address. Just talk to the device. And it’s free to answer the coupon because we don’t go through carriers, we go through the device.

AV: How does iSign increase consumer engagement?

The best example I can give you is that we were invited to an ad agency to come to Singapore and to install iSign into several major department stores from Japan. In these gigantic stores in nine major malls in Singapore, we put in 160 units, so 16-20 units per store, set at different ranges (which no one else can do). They would sell space to Panasonic, Sony, etc, so when you walk through the store from section to section, you get different offers.

We were identifying over a million and a half phones per month and the download rate was 23 percent, which was unheard of. They appreciated a 6 percent increase in sales, 20 percent increase in loyalty and 20 percent increase in extended warranty sales which are ugly, you know? But when it’s sent to you on your phone, you have time to think about it. IBM has been our partner for four years now because we give the best mindshare.

AV: There has been a bit of a controversy with some mobile technologies, like ShopSavvy, because they can pit brick-and-mortar stores, especially small businesses, against enormous Internet retailers. iSign seems to openly embrace the idea of shopping in your neighborhood. Was that an intentional focus?

Our plan was to be an enabler and iSign is very scalable. It can be one Joe’s Pizza in Baltimore or Domino’s with 10,000 stores all over the state. All you have to do is add more units. You don’t have to add more units with signage, because your phone is the sign. Unlike most signage that estimates impression, our measurement is instant and based on raw data.

There’s a five-minute recycling time, so if you’re selling broccoli, and you’re running out of broccoli, you can just get on your terminal and type in and switch it to Brussels sprouts. You can manage the content, manage your pitch, receive feedback and change the campaign at will.

AV: Is there a fear of oversaturation? As in, if every business started using iSign, wouldn’t people just ignore all the ads?

If you join a loyalty program, say you're going to a mall and become a loyalty member to 10 brands, that day you can select which brands you want to receive messages from—Gap, Brooks Brothers, Arby’s. And those are the only messages you will receive.

AV: What are you hoping to get out of this ad:tech?

We were really impressed by ad:tech in New York, having gone to the show but not exhibited in the show. Since that conference in January, we installed our product in 1,400 stores and proved we could talk to a million phones a day. We’ve been able to raise our cost of our CPM by 30 percent by offering metrics, an extension to mobile and by offering measurement. We felt like it was the time to bring that message to the advertising community.

AV: What’s the next step?

We’ve got some new innovation. Pushing Bluetooth is pretty simple, everybody does it. We happen to have a patent pending for what we’ve done and we’re very proud of that.

We’ve also developed a new thing that is a combination of wifi and Bluetooth, called the Smart Antennae. It contains its own CPU, it’s waterproof, it’ll go to 150 degrees to 40 below, so it’s very useable outside. This is very low cost, it’s made in America, and it allows clients to push an invitation where they are pulled into a wifi LAN that is full of data. So you can pick up a shirt and find out exactly what kind of cotton is used, what sort of designs are available.

This article is part of Allvoices’ series on ad:tech, the largest digital marketing and technology conferences and expositions. Check out for more of Allvoices’ ad:tech San Francisco event coverage. This series is supported by ad:tech.