Peter Kafka

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Do You Want To Save Your Web Ads? AdKeeper Bets $35 Million That You Will

Want to save and store your favorite Web ads? AdKeeper thinks you do. And now the startup has convinced investors to make a huge bet on the concept, too: The company, which has yet to launch, has raised $35 million in a round led by Oak Investment Partners.

Add that to the $8 million AdKeeper rounded up earlier in 2010 from investors including DCM, Spark Capital, First Round Capital, and the New York Times, and you get a sense of the ambition involved here. CEO Scott Kurnit thinks he’ll end up creating a new kind of advertising platform — if Internet users cooperate.

The concept is pretty simple: Web visitors click on ads they like, and store them in a digital locker so they can check them out later. Advertisers will pay AdKeeper a premium.

If it works, it could be huge, but that assumes consumers play along. More than that, really: AdKeeper expects consumers to change their behavior, and start embracing Web ads instead of ignoring them.

Google works brilliantly because it can show searchers relevant ads. But the overwhelming majority of Web surfers ignore conventional display ads — the kind that AdKeeper wants to work with. So who’s going to save ads they’re not looking at in the first place?

Kurnit’s short answer is that he expects marketers to start making ads people will want to hang on to. For a longer answer, check out this AdAge interview. He’s an excellent salesman, and does a good job of banishing the CueCat comparisons I keep thinking of. For now.

This is normally the part in a funding story where a startup talks about its impressive growth in users/traffic/ad impressions or something. But AdKeeper can’t do any of that, because it’s not on any ads yet. Kurnit says that should happen by mid-February.

Instead, the company points to a long list of advertisers, like Pepsi and AT&T, that have said they like the idea. It also points to market research it commissioned which it says shows a majority of Web users would like to save their ads.

And perhaps the company’s biggest selling point is Kurnit, who built during the first Web boom and sold it to Primedia for $700 million in 2001. The company, a forerunner to Web story mills like Demand Media, ended up at the New York Times, where it still makes up a big chunk of the paper’s online business. And its success made Kurnit wealthy and well-respected.

How well-respected? Enough to round up endorsements from people who might not be convinced about AdKeeper, but like its CEO quite a bit.

Here’s the response I got from a member of Kurnit’s advisory board when I asked them to explain AdKeeper to me: “Not sure I get it myself. But I love Scott!”